Arlington Park would 'welcome' table games, slots

Arlington Park's general manager says the track would "welcome" adding table games in addition to the slot machines it has sought for years.

Previous proposals called for the addition of 1,200 slot machines at the Arlington Heights horse racing track. Now, as lawmakers try to craft a new plan in the light of the state's budget troubles, track General Manager Tony Petrillo said table games like blackjack or craps would boost the amount of money gambling sends to the state in taxes.

"That is something that we would welcome," Petrillo said.

"Overall the state would do much better," he said. "We have a company that's willing to invest over $100 million in an operation. And being able to be a contributor back to the state is probably one of the most important things a company can do right now."

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, confirmed adding table games is being discussed.

"It's on the table," Murphy said.

As video gambling machines in bars and restaurants become more common, the track might need table games to keep up with the competition, he said.

How hard the idea will get pushed is in question. It's likely to raise serious concerns because the further lawmakers stray from the previous gambling proposals they've approved but failed to get signed into law, the harder it might become to get something done.

"It's not a small change," state Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat and expansion supporter, said.

Nearby casinos like Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and the Grand Victoria in Elgin have worried about Arlington getting slot machines because the competition could hit their revenues. Table games at racetracks could make them look like a "full-blown casinos," Illinois Casino Gaming Association director Tom Swoik said.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who favors expanding gambling in Illinois, wouldn't say what might end up in a proposal.

Gambling bills can become massive as proponents try to balance geographic and political interests against people who think expanding gambling adds to societal problems like addiction.

"It's a house of cards. If you pull one card out everything goes tumbling," Link said. "And that's what I'm trying to prevent."

Lawmakers who want more gambling will have to decide whether proposing table games at Arlington would blow that house down.

An Illinois casino is limited to a certain number of gambling positions. Each slot machine or chair at a table game like blackjack or craps counts toward that limit.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is said to be pushing behind the scenes for a downtown Chicago casino, but Link has said legislation that provides for only a Chicago casino wouldn't succeed. However, Rita suggested that's still being considered.

Gambling expansion could become a bargaining chip as Gov. Bruce Rauner tries to find some leverage for his Turnaround Agenda. Lawmakers consider expanding gambling most years, but the complicated politics of making a deal means those attempts have almost always fizzled.

But more money coming in from gambling can tend to look attractive to lawmakers who need to fill a budget hole and don't want to raise taxes.

"There's a need for finding revenue right now," Petrillo said. "This is the only revenue bill out there."

Rauner has remained open to gambling expansion but hasn't endorsed any specific plans. Previously, though, he's suggested there should be some amount of local control over how expansion plays out.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes said he had not heard of the proposal until Friday afternoon, but would be strongly against it.

Hayes has been against the idea of slots at Arlington Park from the beginning, but his colleagues on the village board have shifted positions over the years as Arlington Park has made its case that it needs gambling to survive. Hayes' opposition is based in a belief that Arlington Heights is not the place for a casino, which he said the racetrack would become if it had table games.

"​To my mind a separate building that has any form of gambling that's open 365 days a year is a casino, whether it's just slot machines or table games," Hayes said. "But, when you're starting to talk about table games plus slot machines, I don't see how anybody wouldn't define it as a casino. In my mind, not fitting for Arlington Heights."

Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association Executive Director Glen Berman said his members want to make sure that if the track get table games enough money would get put back into purses for winners on the track.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Melissa Silverberg contributed to this story.

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  Arlington Park officials want table games, in addition to slot machines. Joe Lewnard/
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