A challenger for state representative in the district that covers Fairmount Park says the incumbent hasn’t done enough to help the horse-racing track get slot machines.
Democrat Cullen L. Cullen, of Edwardsville, says incumbent Rep. Dwight Kay, a Glen Carbon Republican, is “not really in favor of protecting jobs at Fairmount.”
Kay, however, says he’s been a leader in supporting Fairmount as well as the city of Collinsville, which is the home of Fairmount and stands to gain tax revenue from expanded gambling at the track.
The track itself isn’t picking sides in the race.
Fairmount and other Illinois horse-racing venues have been lobbying for years to get slot machines. Fairmount says it needs slots to survive, because horse owners are going to other states where slot-supported purses are bigger.
Efforts to expand Illinois gambling by adding casinos and adding slots at horse tracks have stalled in recent years, either because they couldn’t clear the state legislature or were vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
During debate on one bill in 2011, Kay spoke against the bill, saying a gambling expansion was not the way to create good jobs in Illinois. “The simple truth is, we know that this is going to create a lot of problems for the people who can least afford it, the most impoverished people who think they’re going to have a lucky day,” Kay argued.
In 2012, during debate on another gambling expansion bill, Kay said: “This is not a job creator, and frankly, what we’re doing to the people of the state of Illinois, we’re going to take money from those people who are least able to pay the price … for the privilege of casinos generating revenue.”
One of the most recent proposals for expanding gambling would allow slot machines at all horse tracks — except for Fairmount. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, cut out Fairmount — at least temporarily — because of a clash involving the cities of East St. Louis and Alton, and their casinos: the Casino Queen and Argosy Casino.
The cities are worried they and the casinos would lose revenue if Fairmount gets slot machines. East St. Louis gets about 40 percent of its revenue from casino taxes.
Rita’s bill at one point called for new tax revenue from Fairmount slots to go to East St. Louis, Alton and Collinsville. East St. Louis and Alton would both get 45 percent of the money under that plan, while Collinsville would get only 10 percent.
Kay has fought against the exclusion of Fairmount Park, and against the 45-45-10 division. Kay filed an amendment that would give 50 percent of the tax revenue to Collinsville, 25 to East St. Louis and 25 to Alton.
“Ever since a bill was introduced to exclude Fairmount Park from the gaming expansion, I have supported putting Fairmount back in the gaming bill, and I won’t give up fighting for Fairmount Park and Collinsville,” Kay said. “As it stands, there are not enough votes to pass a gaming bill unless Fairmount Park is included in the bill.”
Kay said Collinsville, as the home of the horse track, deserves a bigger share of the revenue, “and my bill would accomplish just that.”
Fairmount says it employs about 400 people.
Cullen said: “Kay has voted against protecting local jobs at Fairmount twice. And, on the floor of the House, Kay said bills to stabilize the track do not create jobs and should be rejected. I say, tell that to the people who work there now and the people who have lost their jobs due to lower track revenue over the years.”
Kay said: “This issue is about fairness, and I am disappointed my opponent is trying to make it a partisan issue. I didn’t see Cullen at my town hall meeting I held at Fairmount Park, however I did see many other Democrats and Republicans join me in supporting fairness for Fairmount.”
Fairmount spokesman Jon Sloane said: “Fairmount Park is certainly grateful for any help it can get in this initiative, but as a matter of policy, we consider it inappropriate to comment on the specifics of any political race.”
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2511.