Long shot for Fairmount Park? Kay says gaming bill that excludes track won't pass

News-DemocratApril 21, 2014 

— A metro-east lawmaker said there may not be enough Illinois House votes to pass a bill calling to legalize slot machines at all Illinois horse tracks, except Fairmount Park.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, does not believe the bill will get his or other House Republicans' support and would fail because it would need some GOP votes to pass. If the bill were to pass, he believes that the legislation would be unconstitutional.

"I'm not sure if this bill will stand constitutional muster if it's passed," Kay said Monday during a press event at the track. "That's my opinion."

The bill is the latest attempt to establish electronic gaming at horse tracks so Illinois' horse-racing industry can compete with casinos and other neighboring states such as Indiana and Iowa. In those states, slots operate at tracks and help generate higher purses.

However, the Casino Queen in East St. Louis and the city of East St. Louis -- which gets about 40 percent of its money from casino taxes -- have argued that slots at Fairmount Park would hurt them.

Neither Casino Queen General Manager Jeff Watson nor East St. Louis Finance Director Johnny Campbell could be reached for comment Monday.

Kay called the bill to exclude the Collinsville track "patently unfair."

"The deals have all been cut," he said. "For some reason, that has not happened down here."

Fairmount Park President Brian Zander said that if this bill were to pass, the local track would have an even more difficult time competing with the Casino Queen and other casinos in the St. Louis area.

"I think it would be fair to say that the future here would be bleak," Zander said.

Lanny Brooks, executive director of the Illinois Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association in Collinsville, called the bill "blatantly unfair" and "political extortion."

Brooks said East St. Louis and the Casino Queen aren't willing to negotiate.

"They fear that a few slots with no table games at Fairmount might hurt their bottom line," Brooks said. "There's no empirical evidence to that concern."

Fairmount Park employs about 400; another 600 jobs are indirectly supported by the track. Brooks said three generations of families are working the track's back side.

Trainer Jerry Hammond has been working there since 1955. He said he couldn't imagine working anywhere else.

"It would be a devastating thing for me," Hammond said. "I'm 75 and I don't want to relocate."

Neither does fellow trainer and 67-year-old John Wainwright, who has worked at the track since 1963.

"I came here while I was in high school," Wainwright said. "I've lived here my whole life. It's all I've ever done, other than two years in the Army. This is all I've ever wanted to do.

"If we don't get some help, there's no way we can stay open. That's just a fact."

Fairmount Park will open for its 89th season on April 29 and race for 52 live race dates through Sept. 20. The season is shorter than the 69 live dates held at the Collinsville track last year.

Races will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesdays and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, except for the first Saturday of the season, which is May 3, when the races will be held at 12:30 p.m.

Beginning June 6, live racing will be held at the track at 7:30 p.m. on Friday nights, except July 4, through Aug. 15.

Live racing will also be held at the track at 1 p.m. on Labor Day, Sept. 1.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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