On a recent evening about 15 people gathered in the Collinsville Township Senior Center to discuss how they can help save Fairmount Race Track.
Spearheaded by the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce, those gathered for the Fairness for Fairmount meeting included officials from the City of Collinsville and Collinsville Township, horse owners and concerned citizens. For some the connections to the track are financial, for others sentimental. Stories of childhood experiences at the truck were common as the group members introduced themselves.
Fairness for Fairmount’s mission, Director of the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce Wendi Valenti said, is to get a gambling expansion bill that includes Fairmount Race Track. Concerns about how revenue from the gaming machines would be allocated is not a focus for the group, Valenti said.
“In terms of revenue distribution, the campaign and the Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on that,” Valenti said. “I feel we need to remain focused on getting the expansion bill. That is a singular issue and we don’t want to get distracted.”
Under the original version of the gambling expansion 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. Collinsville would receive the remaining 10 percent.
(see related story “Gaming expansion bill on hold, future of Fairmount Park in limbo”)
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.
On May 9, Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, introduced an amendment to the bill that placed Fairmount Park back in it. 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.
The group’s position is that the track needs the machines to survive. How tax revenue is distributed is not its battle.
Part of the group’s mission is to let people know that a problem exists, horse owner Andrew Calloway said.
“Most people have no idea that racing is in dire straits,” Calloway told the group.
The race track, and all of racing in Illinois, is threatened if gaming expansion for tracks is not approved by the State of Illinois, Chairman of the Illinois Racing Board William Berry told the Metro Independent in May.
“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.
Allowing gaming in the tracks, creating what are called racinos, will allow Illinois tracks to offer purses that are competitive with other states, such as Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. 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, Berry said.
Lifelong Collinsville resident Fred Krietemeyer said he will do what he can to help Fairness for Fairmount, but he is often out of town, racing his horses in states that offer larger purses.
“Anyone who thinks that slots are not the salvation of that track are treading water,” Krietemeyer said. “Without the purses, without the revenue, the good horses aren’t going to show up.”
As Krietemeyer surveyed the intimate gathering, he wondered how much support the group has from Collinsville.
“Unless the majority of the community is really wanting this, we are up for a fight,” Krietemeyer said.
One source of concern was a failed Collinsville City Council resolution, proposed on June 27, 2011, requesting that the City write a letter of support for the Illinois gaming law. The measure failed on a 3-2 vote.
Councilman Mike Tognarelli, who introduced the 2011 resolution, said he will introduce a similar resolution this fall. Tognarelli was at the recent Fairness for Fairmount meeting.
The deciding vote against the 2011 resolution was Mayor John Miller, who has since voiced support for gaming at Fairmount. This spring, Miller, as President of the Southwestern Illinois Council of Mayors, sent a letter to lawmakers requesting Fairmount Park be included in the gaming expansion bill.
City Manager Scott Williams has also been working to ensure the local track is part of any gaming expansion bill. Williams has contacted local elected officials and drove to Chicago in the spring for a hearing on the subject.
(see related story: Collinsville city officials working for ‘Fairness for Fairmount’)
Valenti has been working with Lanny Brooks, executive director of Illinois Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and Fairmount Race Track officials. Brooks has attended prior Fairness for Fairmount meetings and has been working very closely with Valenti on the issue, she said.
But the key is to get large numbers of people in the community to support the effort, Valenti said, to show the Chicago area politicians that “people down here won’t just let nonsense legislation get pushed through.”
The group has already collected about 5,000 signatures on a petition in support of their cause. They have created a Facebook page and will soon be introducing a website.
Another vote on the politically sensitive gaming expansion bill is not expected until after the November elections.
Anyone interested in assisting Fairness for Fairmount or attending the next meeting can contact the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce at 618-344-2884.