Fairmount Park takes another run at slots

News-DemocratJune 10, 2014 

— Fairmount Park leaders are again trying to bring slot machines to the track after lawmakers failed to call the latest on-track gaming bill for a vote in the spring session.

The metro-east track, as well as the entire Illinois horse racing industry, made several attempts at bringing slot machines to the state's five tracks in order to compete with casinos. Each session, either the legislature or the governor have failed to approve it.

Illinois Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Lanny Brooks said he and others involved in the industry are lobbying for a bill that would be acceptable for lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn.

"We have the summer to put this thing to bed," Brooks said.

Fairmount Park President Brian Zander said the recent failed attempt will not affect the 2015 season, which will be the 90th, at Fairmount Park.

"We will have live racing in 2015," Zander said. "Beyond that, I don't know."

On Tuesday, Quinn was in Troy but declined to answer questions about gambling expansion.

An amendment that was proposed in the existing bill called for gambling expansion at all Illinois horse tracks except Fairmount Park because city leaders from East St. Louis feared that the Collinsville track could take away business from the Casino Queen in East St. Louis. Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said the main opposition centers around the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

"They're concerned that they face a fiscal cliff; (the competition) could irreparably damage it, and if it closes, East St. Louis has nothing," Haine said. "The other tracks just want the bill; they don't care about anything but themselves."

But Haine pointed out the situation is equally difficult for Fairmount, which has sought for years to add video gaming and become a "racino."

"The racetrack has to be a racino if it's going to survive," Haine said.

He also said the key to getting video gaming at Fairmount Park will be the current gambling bill and whether its proponents will need the votes of metro-east legislators to pass it.

"None of us will vote for it if Collinsville is not in it," Haine said. "It's a standoff."

Zander said one the strategies that was proposed during the past session that may still work is to offer revenue sharing between the Collinsvile track and the Casino Queen in East St. Louis and Alton Belle in Alton. One of the reasons the recent bill failed to get called for a vote was that lawmakers disagreed on how the local share of taxes from slots at Fairmount would be distributed. One proposal called for 45 percent to go to East St. Louis, 45 percent to go to Alton and 10 percent to go to Collinsville. Another proposal called for a distribution of 50 percent to Collinsville, 25 percent to East St. Louis and 25 percent to Alton.

"Would we like all of the money? Sure, we would like all of the money," Zander said. "But it's just not realistic. We have to make sure we have that Alton is taken care of and we have to make sure that East St. Louis is taken care of. So you have to think there's a framework for working something out."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526. Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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