Illinois Gaming Expansion Comes Up Short

State lawmakers approve measure to reauthorize advance deposit wagering May 31.

A major expansion of gaming in Illinois, including slot machines for tracks, was sidetracked again as lawmakers deadlocked on several key issues in the final day of their spring session.

Along with gaming, a fix for the state's grossly underfunded public employee pension systems, and approval for same-sex marriage were still undone as the final hours of the session ticked away May 31.

Illinois tracks did salvage a possible minor victory on the final day, however, as the Senate sent to Gov. Pat Quinn a measure that would reauthorize advance deposit wageringafter a six-months hiatus—and pump about $23 million in casino tax money into racing. Quinn's approval is not certain.

Taxes on ADW wagering are a primary funding source for the Illinois Racing Board, which faces a severe budget crisis if not restored. The $23 million is only about 20% of the money that had accumulated from the casino tax over more than a year. The legislation redirects the remainder of the fund to school infrastructure needs.

Springfield is famous for massive, last-minute compromises that spring major legislation for end-of-session approval. This year, the complexities of the interlocking proposals proved too much.

The biggest issue of the session was pension funding. The pension systems are underfunded by about $100 billion and the costs associated with that situation are squeezing all other state spending. Each house passed a bill but they could not agree on which measure should become law.

With that vexing budget-buster still hanging, gaming expansion became a moot issue. Quinn has said he would not sign other major legislation until the pension mess is addressed.

Quinn vetoed two earlier versions of gaming expansion, saying they lacked sufficient ethical safeguards.

"We have heard time and time again about all that is wrong with putting out an 11th-hour, big gambling bill at the end of session," said a statement from the House sponsor, Democrat Bob Rita. "We want to take more time to get this right and go through it line-by-line to make sure we do it right."

In fact, the bill had been weighted down with funding for a host of special interests and Rita was facing more outstretched palms even on the final days of the session.

Rita said he will hold hearings this summer around Illinois and hopes to revisit the issue in the fall veto session.

The bill, which currently lacks any substantial language, was referred back to the House Rules Committee.