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What If Illinois Race Tracks Get Slots?

9 July 2003

After months of talk speculating about the possibility introducing slot machines to Illinois' horse racing tracks, steps toward making it a reality surfaced in Springfield earlier last month.

A proposal was brought before the House Gaming Committee by racing industry leaders asking for 5,000 slot machines at Illinois' five race tracks.

Although it's still a longshot, based upon Gov. Blagojevich's opposition to expanding the casino gambling industry in this state, the fact that the package would add nearly $400 million annually to the state treasury and an additional $60 million to local governments will make it worthy of study.

Knowing how politics is a game of give and take, the obvious question is: "What's in it for the nine casino license holders in the state?" After all, they've been here for 10 years, made significant investments, and contributed substantial amounts of money to local and state governments.

The answer is that the current restriction on gaming positions would be lifted (it now stands at 1,200 per casino), paving the way for up to 6,700 more slot and table game positions at the existing properties.

There are many factors that would make it relatively easy to create dedicated slot machine/video poker areas at the tracks.

First of all, there is already gambling taking place at the facilities, albeit pari-mutuel wagering. Also, the tracks are already licensed and regulated by the state of Illinois.

There's also plenty of room and plenty of parking. The existing tracks were built to accommodate crowds in the tens of thousands. On-track attendance is no where near that today because of the availability of off-track wagering facilities and the fact that the riverboat casino industry has competed so successfully with the racing industry.

But the existing casinos know that if slots come to the tracks, they'll be in for a fight to maintain their customer base. The tracks in the Chicago area are a lot closer to a majority of the population in the Chicago and surrounding suburban area than any riverboat casino, including Northwest Indiana.

Balmoral Park in Crete, Illinois, which would be a recipient of slots if the proposal becomes a reality, would have an impact on the flight of slot fans from the south-suburban area to the riverboat casinos in Hammond, East Chicago, and Gary.

Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois, would be closer to players in the northwest region than Hollywood Casino in Aurora or the Grand Victoria in Elgin.

And how about the "in-town" track locations? Hawthorne Race Course, located 3500 south in the Stickney/Cicero/Berwyn area, would be a big draw for slot players, as would Maywood Park located at First and North Avenues in the Maywood/Melrose Park area. Both locations are minutes from major Chicago-area population centers.

The state's fifth race track is Fairmount Park in downstate Collinsville, Illinois. Since slots would be allocated to the tracks based on the revenues each track is producing, it would be a minor player in all of this. The bulk of the 5,000 slot positions would go to the Chicago-area tracks.

My guess is that the existing casino license holders don't want slots at the tracks, but with the state wallowing in red ink, they are realists enough to know that state legislators are more inclined to opt for it than raising taxes or eliminating programs.

The casinos will get what they've wanted for a long time: Unrestricted slot and table game positions at their properties. They also may be the recipients of a newly created fan base.

When gambling was expanded across the country during the past decade, some thought that Las Vegas' and Atlantic City's exclusivity as America's gambling destinations would suffer. On the contrary, business flourished because newly created gambling fans were eager to experience "the real thing."

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