COLLINSVILLE — Plans to add slot machines, casino table games and sports betting to the Fairmount Park horse track under a statewide gambling expansion law promoted here Tuesday by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker could spur at least $50 million in new facilities.
“There’s going to have to be new buildings” to house the additional gambling options, Fairmount president Brian Zander said. “We’re looking at $50 million to start with.”
Zander was interviewed after Pritzker spoke briefly to the afternoon race crowd and then to reporters about the expansion bill passed last month by the Illinois Legislature with the governor’s support.
Pritzker, in his remarks to the crowd, focused on the likely expansion of racing days at Fairmount to 100 a year from the current 41 under the bill.
The governor said the measure means “more horses, more races, more days — and that means more jobs to this area.”
He also referred to the gambling expansion’s part in helping pay for a $45 billion state construction program also passed by the Legislature and signed by Pritzker.
That, he said, will “help us to build new roads and bridges and universities and community colleges … and that brings more jobs, better education and a better life for working families.”
The governor also thanked several Metro East lawmakers for supporting the bill.
Fairmount and two Chicago area race tracks had been pushing for decades for the legal authority to offer casino-type games as a way of expanding their market and revenue bases.
Zander said Fairmount had struggled in recent years partly because of its inability to offer purses for winning horses closer in size to those available at race tracks in some nearby states where slot machines already are allowed.
“Essentially it’s really going to save the place,” Zander said.
The new Illinois law will allow Fairmount to have as many as 900 gaming positions at slot machines and table games, plus some sports betting.
Zander said he doesn’t know yet how many of each type of gaming positions would be sought by Fairmount from the Illinois Gaming Board, which would make the decision.
Fairmount spokesman Jon Sloane said track officials hope that the expansion at the 94-year-old facility could happen as soon as next year but “that this is not etched in granite.”
Pritzker declined to predict an opening date for the Fairmount expansion, pointing out that the gaming board has yet to begin work on regulations it needs to put together under the new law and other details.
“We want to make sure we’re doing it the right way,” he said. “I don’t want to put a time on it but it will be as soon as we possibly can.”
Asked whether the expansion may result in an oversupply of gambling availability in the two-state metro St. Louis market, he said his goal is to expand the gaming market “and not cannibalization.”
“A lot of the people who are interested in horse racing are also going to be the people who are gaming on those other new machines that are here,” the governor said. “They may not have gone to these other casinos.”
The Metro East area has two casinos, the Casino Queen in East St. Louis and Casino Argosy in Alton. There also are four casinos on the Missouri side, in downtown St. Louis, Lemay, Maryland Heights and St. Charles.
Zander said without the added gambling options allowed at Fairmount under the new law, “it would have been very tough” to continue operating without reducing the number of racing days in the future.
Eventual closure could have been a possibility, he said.
The gambling expansion bill also increases by 800 the maximum gaming positions allowed at each existing Illinois casino; authorizes six new casinos, all outside metro St. Louis, and a new Chicago area race track.
The measure also allows more video gambling terminals at restaurants, bars, veterans’ halls and truck stops.
Also on Tuesday, Pritzker went to Alton to take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the recent launch of a planned revitalization project for the city’s downtown area.
The plan, called AltonWorks, is expected to include at least $100 million in private investment. The development group, headed by Alton lawyer John Simmons, has acquired 25 downtown buildings so far, said spokeswoman Susan Ryan.
The group also plans to seek historic tax credits and other state funding sources.
Pritzker on Tuesday also stopped by the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville campus to sign a new law giving voting rights to each of the two student members of the seven-person SIU board of trustees.
Pritzker’s office said in the past only one of two elected student trustees had been given a vote on board matters, with student trustees from the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses rotating the vote.
The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.
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