Illinois Gaming Expansion Stalls

Illinois Gaming Expansion Stalls
Photo: File Photo

Gaming expansion, including authorization for slot machines at racetracks, appears to have been left at the starting gate once again in the Illinois General Assembly.

Democrats in both the House and Senate pushed through to approval Jan. 10 legislation that would provide emergency funding for Chicago-area mass transit, otherwise facing severe cutbacks within weeks. Companion legislation, using money from gaming expansion to pay for downstate infrastructure improvements, was not called for consideration.

The narrow approval of the transit-funding bill was made possible by legislative rules that change Jan. 1. Prior to that date, Democrats needed Republican votes to pass any legislation. After New Year’s Day, the Democrat majorities in both houses were sufficient.

During the past several months, Republicans had insisted on the gaming/infrastructure legislation as a “quid pro quo” for their votes on a transit package. However, temporary transit funding was put in place twice late in 2007, enabling the Democrat majority to delay a vote until the GOP votes were no longer needed.

The battle may not be over. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has expressed reservations about the transit package approved Jan. 10. Should he revise it and send it back to legislators for further action, negotiations could be thrown wide open once more.

While the legislature has wrangled over the slot-machine option, another funding mechanism for racing may have moved a step closer to reality.

On Dec. 31, investors in a proposed new riverboat casino in Rosemont, Ill., near O’Hare International Airport, announced they will give up their court fight to retain their gaming license. The Illinois Gaming Board and Attorney General Lisa Madigan had opposed the award of the license to Emerald Casino investors, citing alleged ties to organized crime.

The gaming board said it will proceed with plans to auction the license to new owners.

The 1999 legislation steering the license to Rosemont also contains a provision granting a percentage of the revenue from that casino to racetracks. It is unclear, however, how that provision would apply in various scenarios that might result from a new auction of the license.

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