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In an about face, Collinsville City Council supports slot machines at Fairmount Park

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Just more than three years ago, Collinsville City Councilwoman Nancy Moss implored her fellow Council members to vote against a resolution allowing slot machines at Fairmount Park and other racetracks in Illinois.

“I’m begging you tonight to not pass this,” Moss said on June 27, 2011.

The entrance to Fairmount Park / Photo by Roger Starkey

The entrance to Fairmount Park / Photo by Roger Starkey

By a 3-2, the Council voted down the resolution. Monday, by a 3-0 vote, the Council approved a resolution for the same purpose. Moss and Councilwoman Karen Woolard did not vote, choosing, instead, to abstain.

Councilman Mike Tognarelli, who introduced the resolution in 2011, and again Monday, was joined by Councilman Jeff Kypta and Mayor John Miller in support of the resolution.

Moss did not respond to multiple requests for comment, so it is not clear why she chose not to vote on the resolution. In the past, Moss has been outspoken in her opposition to gambling in Collinsville when voting against the previous Fairmount Park resolution and against allowing gaming machines, which were approved by the Council in Nov. 2012.

“If you take all of the moral issues out if, which I can’t do, but if you take all of that out of it, they have realized, whole states have realized, that it is not increasing their revenue, that it is not a positive thing,” Moss said in Nov. 2012, when speaking against allowing gaming machines in Collinsville.

Woolard, in an email statement following the meeting, explained why she did not vote on the resolution. Her heart goes out to the people who feel their jobs are at stake, Woolard said.

“I don’t want to see anyone jobless.  I also feel it is outrageous that our government would choose to ostracize Fairmount Park,” Woolard said. “It is just more proof of the problems in Springfield.”

Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, who introduced the gambling expansion 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 that placed Fairmount Park back in the bill.

Woolard said she is concerned about the growth of the gambling industry in Illinois.

“Research shows that gambling does not benefit a community as much as people might think. Plus, it brings with it some negative aspects for the community,” Woolard said. “I did not support the introduction of video gambling into Collinsville in the first place, for these and other reasons. Thus, I could not support the addition of the machines at Fairmount Park.”

Woolard was elected to the City Council in 2013.

Kypta did not respond to multiple requests for comment on his vote. In 2011, he voted against the resolution, saying he was not in favor of gambling in Collinsville, nor did he want to see workers at Fairmount lose their jobs.

“I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings,” Kypta said in 2011. “I don’t see what this (resolution) would do to help. Maybe we can do something to promote the horse track better.”

In 2012, Kypta voted to allowing gaming machines in Collinsville. In meetings prior to the vote, Kypta said he was in favor of Collinsville residents providing guidance on the matter through a non-binding resolution.

When asked in Nov. 2012 if they were in favor of prohibiting gambling in Collinsville, voters, by a 1,300 vote margin, said “no.” The Council vote to allow gaming machines followed the non-binding resolution vote.

Speaking in 2011 just before the City Council vote, Miller said he did not see how supporting the addition of slot machines in Fairmount Park would help. He has since changed his mind and has supported an effort to have Fairmount Park included in the current statewide gambling expansion bill.

Public provides input to the Council

Seven speakers addressed the Council on the topic of the resolution prior to the vote Monday, many were from the group Fairness for Fairmount, which is working to ensure the Collinsville racetrack is included in the current gambling expansion bill being considered by the Illinois State Legislature.

See related story, (“Fairness for Fairmount continues fight to bring gaming to Fairmount Race Track“)

Collinsville Township Trustee Dennis Hill told the Council that the Township had unanimously passed a resolution at its annual meeting to support Fairness for Fairmount “due to the economic impact losing the track would have.” Fairmount Park employs 400 people and is estimated to employ another 600 indirectly.

Director of the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce Wendi Valenti told the Council that passing the resolution would be very influential to the downstate legislators who will vote on the gambling expansion bill.

Mead Dowling, of Collinsville, and a 36-year employee of Fairmount Race Track, said the track will not survive much longer without slot machines.

“If they don’t get the slots, they may open next year, but it’s not going to be a very long year,” Dowling said. The track was once open 256 days each year, but is now open 52.

Collinsville resident Phil Astrauskas was the only member of the audience to speak in opposition of the resolution.

“I can tell you everything I have read by every economist, every social person, says that gambling is not good for your community, I don’t care what it does,” Astrauskas said. “What are we going to do through gambling to improve the per capita income of the people who live in this community? Think about that.”

Speaking in 2011, Tognarelli said the resolution is more about saving a business that has been operating since 1925 than gambling.

“It’s more about support for Fairmount Race Track and what they have done for our community,” Tognarelli said.

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