By Bob Kieckhefer
The Illinois House May 30 passed legislation that would permit slot machines at the state's racetracks as part of a dramatic expansion of gaming around the state.
The bill now must go back to the Senate for approval as most of its substance was added in the form of House amendments. Should it pass the Senate in its current form, it would go to Gov. Pat Quinn. A Senate vote is expected May 31.
Quinn earlier expressed reservations about gaming expansion but has new reasons to change his mind. Among them are recent reluctance by the Legislature to approve more state borrowing and the implosion of legislation which was supposed to fund a massive and legislatively popular capital improvement plan.
Although newly inaugurated Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not publicly weighed in on the issue, his administration would benefit substantially from the Chicago casino included in the bill and he needs the money. Covert support from Chicago might explain the surprisingly easy margin of House passage – 65-50, with 2 "present" votes. The tally was expected to be much closer.
A lot of other legislative horse trading preceded the vote on Senate Bill 744, including inclusion in the bill of authorization for a horse racing program at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, which used to host top-level Grand National harness races; slot machines at airports to help airlines facing the costs of expanding O'Hare International, and spinoff financing for a host of other causes.
The bill also would allow expansion of existing casinos, whose opposition was believed to have killed a similar bill on the verge of its passage in January, at the end of the last legislative session.