Illinois House Again OKs Racetrack Slots

by Bob Kieckhefer

The Illinois House of Representatives May 23 again passed a gaming expansion bill that would authorize slot machines at Illinois racetracks. However, Gov. Pat Quinn again found fault with the measure, and the bill fell two votes short of a “veto-proof” majority.

The bill somewhat scales back the scope of legislation passed last year by both houses of the General Assembly but never sent to Quinn because of the threatened veto. Among other things, it reduces the number of new gaming positions below the level authorized under the earlier legislation, and it drops approval for slots at Chicago’s airports and the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

However, like last year’s measure, it would authorize a land-based casino for the Chicago Loop—a revenue-generator coveted by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—and the slots-at-tracks provision Illinois racing interests have called essential for survival. The language was grafted onto an already-passed Senate bill and now needs only concurrence by the Senate to go to Quinn’s desk.

The bill also has some new regulatory provisions. However, Quinn quickly criticized the measure itself and the House for passing it, saying it still has “major ethical shortcomings” and fails to provide adequate oversight of the proposed Chicago casino.

The Democratic governor in the past has said he would not approve any measure authorizing slots at racetracks. In his comments May 23, he did not seem to totally shut the door on the concept of a gaming expansion.

“As long as I’m governor, I will not support a gambling bill that falls well short of protecting the people of Illinois,” Quinn said. “It is clear that this gaming bill still needs significant improvement.”

If lawmakers and the governor cannot agree on final language, it appeared there were sufficient “present” votes during the May 23 69-47 House vote to get to a 71-vote override tally, provided all the “yes” votes hold firm—never a certainty, especially in an election year. The Senate likely would be an even tougher hurdle for an override effort.

The legislature’s spring session is scheduled to end May 31.

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