By Bob Kieckhefer
The Illinois Senate May 31 gave final legislative approval to a sweeping expansion of gaming in Illinois, including authorization for slot machines at racetracks. With newly inaugurated Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel actively twisting arms on behalf of the legislation, the Senate approved House amendments with a bare majority vote, 30-27, with two voting present.
The bill now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, like Emanuel a Chicago Democrat. Quinn, however, has expressed reservations about the scope of the bill. He has said he is okay with a new casino for Chicago, which attracted Emanuel's support. But he questioned the bill's authorization of several other new casinos around the state, slot machines inside security at Chicago airports, and a new slot machine/racing operation for the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Still, Quinn, like Emanuel, faces staggering budget deficits and the gaming bill promises to help plug the yawning gap in state finances. New gaming revenue also would help cover for the implosion of earlier legislation designed to fund a popular statewide public works program.
Quinn could veto the bill outright and the Legislature likely would lack the votes for an override. He also could propose changes through the amendatory veto. The legislature could accept the changed version with a majority vote. But if Quinn were to delete any key new gaming venues, that could reduce legislative support.
The Illinois racing industry has lobbied for alternative revenue sources for many years and came close to winning passage in January. This session's effort was given a significant boost by Emanuel's involvement.
All of the state's tracks, the horsemen's organizations, and allied industries joined forces in a rare display of unity to support the bill, arguing that without new revenue, Illinois racing would be on a slide to oblivion.