Fairmount racetrack has been in business since 1925. At one time, the racetrack was one of the largest job creators in the Metro East and sent more tax dollars to Collinsville than most, if not all, businesses in Madison County.
Today, the racetrack is a shell of what it was, what it could be, and what it must be in the future. Numbers vary, but approximately 1,400 jobs are supported directly or indirectly by horse racing at Fairmount. Now, because casinos want to corner the gaming market dollar, saying that, “the market is already saturated,” Illinois’ General Assembly appears ready to be a partner in a legislative scheme to force Fairmount Park to close its doors by not allowing slot machines at our local track. Other states like Indiana and Pennsylvania have allowed slots at tracks, preserving horse racing and adding hundreds of jobs to their states.
Senate Bill 1739 is Illinois’ ill-conceived gaming bill which has been kicked around enough to qualify as the ultimate political football. It is hundreds of pages long, including eight amendments added since 2012. In the underlying bill and the first six amendments, Fairmount racetrack was purposely eliminated from any consideration of gaming machines (Amendment 2). Yet, a much smaller horse racing track located in Moline was given slot machines as were the major horse racing venues in the Chicago area. This is Illinois after-all and SB 1739 is yet another example of why we continue to break bad in the public’s eye – it threatens job loss in our own backyard.
On April 15, I traveled to Chicago to hear testimony pertaining to the gaming bill and to question its exclusion of Fairmount. I listened to how other tracks had readily been granted “racinos” while Fairmount was legislatively carved out from having them. After questioning every witness that day some interesting legislation followed: Amendment 7 was introduced putting Madison County back into the gaming bill and Amendment 8 followed, which fairly distributed slot machine revenues to gaming entities in Madison County. Amendment 8 requires that revenues should be allotted as follows: Collinsville 50 percent, Alton 25 percent and East St. Louis 25 percent. Before now, Collinsville would have been ripped off by a revenue distribution rate of only 10 percent. Really? Why should East St. Louis and Alton derive 45 percent each from the racetrack?
Senate Bill 1749 is not “soup” yet and no action was taken at the close of business in May.
As the state representative of the 112th District, I am outraged with Springfield’s Chicago style antics. Whether you like gaming or not, the issue with SB 1739 is about fundamental fairness that impacts a business and the jobs it provides, including those that would be newly created in the future by supporting the racetrack.
Unfairly tipping the scales to put Fairmount out of business is just wrong. If Illinois uses common sense and stays away from the political nonsense of the past, Fairmount can be a huge job creator – and no one questions the need for jobs in Illinois.