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Illinois Gov. Pritzker Visits Fairmount Track To Tout Gambling Expansion

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses the crowd at Fairmount Park on July 30. He signed into law a gaming expansion that helps increase the tracks racing days to 100.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses the crowd at Fairmount Park on July 30. He signed into law a gaming expansion that likely will help increase the track's racing days to 100.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion into law in June. On Tuesday he stopped by Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville to talk about the impact.

The legislation offers six new casinos, a harness racetrack and casino licenses for the three existing racetracks in Illinois. Pritzker said adding other types of gaming will reverse the current decline at the horse racing track.

“In the horse racing world, as racing days have gone away it means that jobs in the horse racing industry have gone away,” Pritzker said. “This bill really brings back that industry in Illinois.”

And that’s something the track in Collinsville has been seeking for years, said Brian Zander, president and general manager of Fairmount. 

“At one time we had over 150 thoroughbred racing dates; we had approximately 100 harness dates,” Zander said. “We were literally only closed two weeks a year so we could change the track surface.”

This year, the track hosts only 41 racing days.

Competition from other casinos in the area and video gaming terminals slowly chipped away the track’s attendance and money for races.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker watches horses cross the finish line at Fairmount Racetrack on July 30.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

“The problem is we haven’t been able to generate enough because of all the competition that we’ve had,” Zander said. “We’ve not been on an equal playing field.”

Pritzker said that should change with this new law that will balance that field by more than doubling the current racing days up to 100. 

“That really helps the entire area, brings a lot of money in for the horseman, for the many people that work here,” he said. “More racing days means more jobs.”

The law also legalizes sports betting, making Illinois one of 17 states that offer it. 

“Here in the Midwest, we can be one of the first,” Pritzker said, “and so I’m excited about getting that going.”

The next step for the gambling expansion involves review by the Illinois Gaming Board. 

Pritzker said he wants to see the changes roll out as soon as possible with proper oversight from the gaming board.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

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