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Gaming expansion bill on hold, future of Fairmount Park in limbo

By   /  May 30, 2014  /  No Comments

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Senate Bill 1739, the gaming expansion bill that had many in the Collinsville area concerned about the future of Fairmount Park, will not be voted on in the spring session.

Dwight Kay speaking at Fairmount Park town hall / Photo by Roger Starkey

Dwight Kay speaking at Fairmount Park town hall / Photo by Roger Starkey

The proposal would have allowed for video gaming at horse racing tracks in Illinois, but there has been no clear consensus on how to include Fairmount Park in the bill, if at all.

Chairman of the Illinois Racing Board William Berry said the consensus is that the bill is headed for the veto session in November.

Berry said he does not anticipate any bill that excludes any track. Allowing for so-called “racinos” would benefit racing throughout the state.

“In states such as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and on to the east coast, they have adopted bills that allow the combination of the race tracks and … racinos,” Berry said. “That combination has generated interest and increased the revenues at the race tracks and, most importantly, those increased revenues have increased purses.”

There are concerns about the future of racing at Fairmount Park, and in the state of Illinois as a whole, if a gaming expansion bill is not passed.

“All of the tracks in Illinois will need the legislative intervention that will allow them to establish facilities that will be comparable to [other states] and thus increase the revenues and the purses that will attract the horsemen,” Berry said.

Berry said without the promise of being able to establish a program that will make purses in Illinois competitive with surrounding states, racing in Illinois will decline.

“Ultimately, I believe there will be a consensus that will allow a gaming bill that will allow [racinos],” Berry said. “It’s going to be critical. It needs to be addressed fairly quickly here.”

The urgency, Berry said, is in trying to be competitive with other states that have led the way.

“At some point, the decision has to be made. The longer we’re not able to compete, you run the risk of once we finally do it, people won’t come back,” Berry said. “We want the sport to flourish in Illinois. We have to create the atmosphere for the sport to flourish.”

Racing tracks in Cook County would have received 600 gaming positions through the bill, while those outside of Cook County would have received 450.

Under the original bill, Fairmount Park would have been included, but the cities of East St. Louis and Alton would have each taken 45 percent of the revenue from the machines, while Collinsville would have received 10 percent.

Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, who introduced the bill, later introduced an amendment that excluded Fairmount Park due to concerns about the impact on the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

Local opposition to Rita’s amendment to SB1739 has been strong. On May 14, the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce traveled to Springfield and handed out a packet of information, which included a petition with 1,800 signatures, to legislators. There is also a Facebook page titled Fairness for Fairmount that has garnered over 850 likes.

There were attempts to return Fairmount to the bill by legislators as well, though. On May 9, Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, introduced an amendment to the bill that placed Fairmount Park back in.

Collinsville still would have received just 10 percent of the revenue under Hoffman’s amendment.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, also introduced an amendment. His plan also involves revenue sharing between Collinsville, Alton and East St. Louis. Collinsville would receive 50 percent, with the other half split between the other cities.

Berry said although the state of Illinois faces many critical issues that legislators have been working hard on, gaming expansion needs to be addressed.

“Illinois is trying to address a financial crises that certainly aren’t the fault of many of the existing people that have to deal with it,” Berry said. “With all of the pressing issues, this is one of them.”

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