No consensus on slots at Arlington Hts. meeting

Updated 12/29/2010 11:45 PM

Proponents of slot machines at Arlington Park said they are necessary to keep the park open, while opponents talked about the social costs of gambling at a meeting Wednesday in Arlington Heights.

The format allowed audience members to speak, and those who did seemed evenly divided on the issue.

About 35 people attended the meeting, chaired by state Sen. Matt Murphy, Palatine Republican whose district includes Arlington Heights, and state Rep. Mark Walker, Arlington Heights Democrat who was defeated in the November election. Other legislators attended but did not speak.

Murphy said he voted against the bill, which passed in the Senate, because other provisions in the legislation included five new casinos, calling it a "gaming Christmas tree." The casino the city of Chicago would own particularly upset him.

"From a corruption standpoint, one thought that haunted me was opening a newspaper to read an article about what came out of that casino," he said. "Five more casinos would do more harm than good."

Murphy said he would support slot machines at the track to protect the $1 million that Palatine Township Elementary District 15 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 each receive in annual property taxes from Arlington Park.

The Arlington Heights village board has complained that this bill usurps home rule by setting up slots at the track without the board's permission. But the board has not recently taken a stand on the question of slot machines at the park.

Murphy said his conversations with trustees have convinced him the board would approve of slots, and this made him less concerned about the home-rule issue.

Walker said he does not think the House will pass the bill in its current form, but he does think there will be an expansion of gambling in Illinois. He said he is concerned about losing Arlington Park but agrees with Murphy there should be a more modest bill.

Tracks in other states are pulling horses and horsemen from Arlington Park and Illinois because slot machines allow them to offer larger purses, he said.

The gambling bill does not seem to be a hot issue for the legislature, which will adjourn Jan. 12, Walker said.

Sue Walton of Rolling Meadows said social costs must be considered. She said the track brings social problems to her municipality and Palatine. Walton also said she taught in Elgin, where there is a casino, and thought gambling contributed to young girls' turning to prostitution.

Sue Schmechel of Arlington Heights said she enjoys going to the track but the purses were smaller last year.

"I am very disappointed with the mayor and trustees that they haven't done something to help them," she said. "The track has been good for Arlington Heights for many, many years."

Schmechel quoted from a Daily Herald report that listed all the things Arlington Heights was able to buy for the village because it allowed slot machines around town for several months during the Depression.