Arlington Heights residents debate slots at Arlington Park

Updated 6/7/2011 12:11 AM

Arlington Heights trustees mostly listened Monday night as residents sounded off about the possible addition of 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park.

On May 16, trustees discussed the matter, and Mayor Arlene Mulder issued a letter that expressed the desire to keep Arlington Park financially sound. It said the village must not "misstep and lose Arlington Park."

On Monday, Mulder reiterated the importance of the track to the village's economy.

Mentioning that people have been concerned about their tax bills, she said, "We have cut and cut and cut in the last three years to balance the budget. The closure of the track would be a tremendous challenge to this community."

Several residents stood up to speak, both in favor and against.

John Lundstrom, a 45-year resident of the village, said he is concerned the track will close if Arlington Park loses out on the slot machines.

"I'm in favor of anything that will keep the track open," he said.

Susan Schmecher, a 36-year resident, agreed with Lundstrom.

She said the track brings in a lot of money from outside the community, including her husband's company from Chicago, which each year treats its employees to a day at the park and even gives them betting money.

"I can't even begin to realize if the track closed, where the village would make up for the lost revenue," she said.

Richard Johnson called Arlington Park a landmark, adding, "The track has been a very good neighbor for a number of years. Sadly, video slots have become necessary."

However, Russell Maher, who lives on East Euclid Avenue about a mile and a half from the track, expressed concern about additional traffic from extended hours or days.

"I love to gamble. Love to drink. Love the horse track," he said. "But what I don't love is my property values being taken down by increased traffic that is already way too high on my street."

Allison Anderson also opposed the additional machines. She said a study has shown that casinos take more money from the local economy than they put in.

"Put simply, people who go to casinos have less money to spend on clothes, cars, food, rent, mortgages or restaurants. For people with significant gambling losses, it can mean loss of a home or family problems," she said. "It can destroy the fabric of a neighborhood.

"With 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park, and restaurants on site, the public will pour their nickels, dimes and quarters into Churchill Downs and the Kentucky economy, and not go to a movie at Arlington Theaters, not see a play at Metropolis, not go bowling with their family, not go out to dinner, not swim at a village pool."

At least one audience member, Judith Royal, felt the village board blindsided the residents by discussing the issue without putting the matter on the agenda.

"The public was not aware the mayor would start this discussion and, with the assistance of Trustee (Joseph) Farwell, the board would act," she said.

Farwell responded by saying the real catalyst behind the May 16 meeting was the pressure by state legislators in the press for the village to take a stance.

"They were looking for leadership from us, which was kind of funny, because they were proposing a bill that was taking away home rule," he said,

Trustee Norm Breyer responded to Anderson's comments about taking money away from the local economy.

"How many people bank at Chase?" he asked, noting that its headquarters is out of state. "Then why would we say that it is so evil for Churchill Downs to send money to Kentucky?"

Still, Breyer said he has misgivings, saying he would prefer to see restricted hours.

"But we have to live with what the state allows," he said.

In addition to allowing 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park, the gambling legislation sent to Gov. Pat Quinn would create five new casinos in Park City, Chicago, the South suburbs, Rockford and downstate Danville. Quinn has called the proposed expansion excessive.