By Bob Kieckhefer
The Illinois Senate Dec. 1 approved legislation that would authorize slot machines at Illinois racetracks as part of a huge expansion of gambling across the state.
The bill, which passed with the bare minimum of 31 votes, notes Illinois racing is "on the verge of extinction" because of slots-fueled competition from surrounding states. In addition to authorizing slots at tracks, the bill would permit a huge casino in downtown Chicago as well as new casinos in four other locations around Illinois.
The bill earmarks after-tax gaming revenue to purse accounts on a sliding scale, depending on receipts, from 12.75% to 26.5%. Small portions of the purse allocation would be set aside for specific backstretch purposes, including 0.33 1/3% each for laundry facilities for backstretch workers and "care for injured and unwanted horses."
The legislation is far from becoming law despite the Senate victory. The House of Representatives, which has been more reluctant to approve gaming expansion, has recessed until after the first of the year. And Gov. Pat Quinn expressed reservations about the scope of the bill.
Opposition comes from opponents of gambling, from existing casinos, and from regulators.
The bill identifies Illinois racing as a $2.5 billion industry "on the verge of extinction due to fierce competition from fully developed horse racing and gaming operations in other states," and claims the "decline of the Illinois horse racing and breeding program" would be reversed by its passage.
Six tracks would be permitted to have slots. In the Chicago area, Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course, Balmoral Park, and Maywood Park would each get 1,200 machines; Fairmount Park and Quad City Downs would each get 900.