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Tuesday, May 29, 2012 / 7:54 AM

Illinois Sports Betting: Race For More Revenue In Fairmount Park’s Favor

East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks recently described the atmosphere at some of his city’s nightclubs as “wholesome.”

He is steadfast against earlier closure times for nightclubs that can now remain open until 3 a.m. on weekdays and 5 a.m. on weekends.

Jobs, taxes, and liquor-license fees are all desperately needed for beleaguered East St. Louis. The city is faced with major financial cuts, which could include police officers and firefighters.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Ill.) has not entered this debate, which began with Sen. Dick Durbin suggesting the clubs close earlier to hopefully curtail violence.

If Quinn can stay out of this squabble, hopefully he will finally see the light and allow slot machine gambling at some Illinois thoroughbred horse racing tracks—including Fairmount Park.

By a 69-47-2 vote on Wednesday, the Illinois House approved a bill that would allow five new casinos—including the state’s first in Chicago—and slot gaming at race tracks.

Quinn has said repeatedly that he would veto any gaming bill that included race-track slots, but he dropped that mantra in recent weeks as Illinois’ budget struggles have continued to fester.

He offered no alternative to the gaming bill that was sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), and it looks like Fairmount will finally get a financial windfall it desperately needs. The bill has bipartisan support, including Republican State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

Two weeks ago, Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association told the Post-Dispatch, “We’re cautiously optimistic” about Quinn dropping his opposition. That was before the House vote, which gives further hope for Fairmount.

I don’t think nightclubs offer wholesome entertainment. I don’t think casinos offer wholesome entertainment. I think a horse-racing track does—even though you can gamble there. As long as the slot machines are in an area restricted to minors, they should be allowed to be a saving grace for tracks like Fairmount.

Lang said the new casinos and slot gaming at race tracks could bring an additional $300 million to $1 billion a year to Illinois. This does not even include sales tax generated at the sites.

Fairmount could increase its purses for winning horses, which would bring better horses to the track. In turn, this could attract more horse-racing fans.

Illinois is also forging ahead with its plans for online lottery ticket sales and would certainly be among the first states to join New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in challenging the U.S. Justice Department’s ban on sports betting.

While Quinn seems to be standing down, it’s good to know that Lang needs just two more votes to override a veto if that should occur. If he reaches the magic number of 71, one of the big winners will be Fairmount Park.


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