COLLINSVILLE — As Fairmount Park prepares to open for its 87th year of horse racing next week, lawmakers in Springfield again pushed to bring slots to state horse tracks.
The 69-day schedule that will begin March 26 at the Collinsville track is longer than the 67-date schedule from a year ago. Track President Brian Zander said the future of the horse-racing venue may hinge on gaming expansion.
Zander said a bill that was introduced at the state capitol is the latest attempt to legalize on-track gaming, or "racinos," which 13 states have established. These racinos are able to provide larger daily prize winnings for horse owners. Zander said horse owners can race for $15,000 to $20,000 in Indiana or Iowa compared to only about $6,000 in Illinois.
Also, the state recently legalized video gambling at public places including taverns, which further incites racino proponents to push for slot machines at horse tracks.
Zander said the Collinsville track has been pushing for gaming expansion since the mid-1990s because it would create hundreds of local jobs and thousands of jobs statewide, as well as generate millions of dollars of revenue.
Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed two such laws over the past six months, although the last bill included Quinn's demands for more state oversight of the casino selection process and management of an additional casino proposed in Chicago.
But Zander believes the governor's office may be more receptive this time around because of the state's deepening debt.
"The conversation has shifted," Zander said. "It's not so much that 'No, we're against it.' It's now, 'OK, what are we going to do with the money?' This is really now what the hang-up is."
The 2013 season will begin with a 1 p.m. start on March 26. Live racing will continue every Tuesday afternoon at Fairmount Park through Sept. 17. Races also will be held every Friday night beginning at 7:30 p.m. from March 29 through Sept. 20, the last day of the live racing season at the track. The first Saturday races will be held at 12:30 p.m. on May 4, the day of the Kentucky Derby. Saturday races will be held at 7:30 p.m. beginning May 11 through Aug. 24.
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.