Horse track owners want video poker

Many local governments opting out
December 1, 2009 (CHICAGO) On Tuesday, McHenry County joined roughly 40 other local governments in saying it doesn't want video poker. If others choose to opt out, it could mean trouble for the state's capital program.

"However if more local governments ban video gaming, the estimate may need to be revisited," said Eric Noggle, Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

"You double the amount of people who opt out, and that's gonna be cause for concern," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.

Enter the Illinois Horse Racing Industry- which is struggling with its lowest revenues since the early 70's. Track owners are saying if local communities decide they don't want video poker machines, they'll take them.

"Why are we-- the racetracks and the OTBs-- the only liquor establishments in the state of Illinois not allowed to have them? It doesn't make any sense," said Tim Carey, Hawthorne Race Track owner.

Track owners argue that that video gaming at the tracks would boost attendance along with winner's purses, and breathe new life into an industry that's seen business drop 25% over the last two years.

"Almost every state in the union allows slot machines at race tracks," said Bob Molaro, racetrack lobbyist.

That's a long standing argument from track owners, and while it may have some new muscle now, the idea of creating so-called racinos hasn't mustered enough votes in the past.

"So far the legislature has not been able to agree on anything. I'm not convinced the support for racinos is there," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, (D) Des Plaines.

Gambling opponents say the state's video poker plan, the horse racing industry's hunger to be part of it amounts to a feeding frenzy that won't pay off in the end.

"You're going to multiply by 700 percent the amount of gambling in the state and it's not working now. Why in the heck would we think that you're gonna gamble yourself rich?" said Rev. Tom Grey, gambling opponent.

governor Quinn said Tuesday that lawmakers ought take a look at whether it makes sense to put video gaming in the state's horse racing tracks. It's up to them, he says.

Video poker is at least a year a way, and there are other communities that are considering opting out. Whether that reaches a critical threshold isn't clear yet. The big question is the city of Chicago -- which must opt-in to video poker for it to happen.

There's no immediate timetable for that vote.

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