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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Making "Cents" from Race Track Casinos in Illinois

12 September 2009

After years of heated debate revolving around the topic of gaming expansion in Illinois and the myriad legislation that was proposed, or bills presented that were voted down or never made it out of committee, I found it odd that the ultimate decision was to permit gambling in every neighborhood in the state.

The bill to bring video gaming into bars and lounges was to me like the owners of Major League Baseball starting off with a debate over whether or nor to allow another franchise into the league and then deciding to expand to all 50 states.

No wonder opponents of gambling are up in arms, and even some villages are contemplating barring their communities from participation.

The mitigating circumstances, of course, revolved around the budget crunch and the need for additional revenue. The expansion that was decided upon was an easy, albeit controversial, fix but hardly the most prudent.

Other states which permit either state-regulated casino gambling and/or pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing face a similar dilemma. Ohio, for example, decided upon legalizing slot machines at race tracks, thereby becoming the thirteenth state to sanction so-called "racino" operations.

According to the 2009 "State of the States" report, a survey of casino entertainment compiled by the American Gaming Association, the racetrack casino sector of business continued to grow last year while state regulated casino gambling revenues fell. There is every indication it will continue to grow.

The Illinois horse racing industry is struggling, in many respects through no fault of its own. At one time it was a major part of main stream American sports life, and it just so happened you could also wager on the outcomes of the races. Gambling and sports expansion combined with competition from other forms of entertainment took care of that.

It doesn't make sense that with so many models from other states to research, the political leaders of Illinois don't contemplate the logical way to expand gambling would be to bring it into the state's existing horse racing tracks.

Illinois' most successful casino operations are already subsidizing horse racing with a state-mandated three percent surcharge on their adjusted gross revenues, payment of which is still tied up in the courts.

Instead of forcing the casinos to support the race tracks, both industries seem to be better served when their respective strengths are combined.

The success of racino operations doesn't necessarily translate into increased interest in horse racing, but the revenues that are generated support valuable horse racing programs which are directly linked to the economy of this state.

The geographic locations of the tracks, including the four in the Chicago area, would be formidable racino operations capable of attracting customers from a broad geographic area without intrusive and controversial expansion into the neighborhoods.

The facilities are already state regulated, they have historic footprints, plus there is an abundance of under-used interior space and acres of parking. What's more, the structures are in place to facilitate rapid development and deployment of the operations.

Illinois will be the seventh state to permit video gaming outside of casinos. Too bad it wasn't the fourteenth state to legalize racinos.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp