Metro-East News

Gaming bill gets stuck in committee as session ends. What's it mean for Fairmount Park?

Fairmount Park needs revenue stream

Fairmount Park president, Brian Zander, talks about the need for anew revenue stream.
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Fairmount Park president, Brian Zander, talks about the need for anew revenue stream.

With no new revenue source approved for horse racetracks by the General Assembly before the end of its session last week, the future of the Fairmount Park's 2018 season is now in question.

Fairmount Park representatives would not comment on its next steps following the end of the General Assembly's spring session.

In the past, the park has said without a new revenue source approved by the state, it would need to cut the 2018 season short. Instead of running through Sept. 22, the park looked to end its season July 3.

A large gambling expansion, which included 900 gaming positions for Fairmount Park, as well six new casinos including one for Chicago, and slots at O'Hare and Midway airports, could not make it out of committee during the last days of the spring session.

The proposal had been approved by the Senate last year, and awaited House consideration.

The failure to move out of committee drew ire from state Senator Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo.

“I’m disappointed the Illinois House has failed again to move forward on a gaming bill that would have spurred economic growth in Southern Illinois," Schimpf said. "I supported this legislation in the Illinois Senate for two reasons. First, it would have allowed Walker’s Bluff to bring a casino license to their winery. Second, it would have authorized Fairmount Park to offer electronic gaming at its racetrack. I urge Speaker Madigan to stop playing procedural games and allow this proposal to receive a vote in a committee without substitutes or other shenanigans.”

A smaller proposal offered by state Reps. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, and Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, that would have allowed for 150 gaming positions per horse race track in Illinois, also did not advance passed committee.

There is concern that further gambling expansion would not actually lead to more revenue. Slot machine gamblers have gone to gaming terminals at bars leading to reduced revenue for casinos, gaming associations have said during committee hearing, according to reports.

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, expressed concern over a gambling expansion during a committee hearing, and how the Casino Queen generates about $8 million a year in tax revenue for East St. Louis.

“Any further gaming expansion we believe would devastate the city, and as a result lead to layoffs in police and firefighters as well as other vital services," Greenwood said.

There were concerns that the state would not be able to support further gambling expansion.

There may be a way for Fairmount Park to have access to millions in additional revenue this year to help it continue live racing this year.

In the budget signed by the governor Monday, there was $2 million in tourism money allocated to Fairmount Park. It however requires a "contractual agreement" between the racetrack and the Casino Queen.

In 2015, Fairmount and Casino Queen had come to an acquisition agreement if slot machines were allowed at racetracks.

Hoffman said Fairmount would have to formally apply for a tourism grant, which is paid for through hotel/motel taxes.

“It’s obvious the race track, whether it’s this race track or Gateway Racetrack, brings people to our area and is an economic engine and provides jobs and entertainment,” Hoffman said.

The Illinois Racing Board says it has not heard from Fairmount about its plans. Racing Board Executive Director Dominic DiCera said their has been no request to formally cut the season short. Indications could come by mid-June when agenda items are due.

State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, had been pushing the gaming expansion bill in the House.

Language on sports betting, fantasy sports and internet gaming also needs to be determined.

Revenue from the gaming expansion would be split equally between elementary and secondary education, pensions and construction.

Rita told reporters he hopes to bring the bill back during the fall veto session, scheduled to begin after November's general election.

“What we’re going to do is work together over the summer, put some hearings together,” Rita said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter