Illinois Gambling Legislation on Hold Again

A compromise bill failed to pick up a sufficient number of votes in the House.

by Bob Kieckhefer

Legislation authorizing slot machines at racetracks has stalled again as the Illinois General Assembly extended its fall session until after Thanksgiving.

Faced with a veto threat by Gov. Pat Quinn, the House of Representatives Nov. 9 came up two votes short of the 60 needed to approve a compromise gaming expansion bill including help for racetracks. Last-minute efforts to revive the measure fell short the following day.

But rather than quit for the year as scheduled, legislative leaders agreed to return to Springfield Nov. 29. That gives them more time to seek common ground on gaming and several other seemingly unrelated issues.

The revised plan that stalled in the House scaled back a gaming expansion originally passed during the spring session. That bill drew Quinn’s ire for its scope—four new downstate casinos, a casino in the Chicago Loop, slots at the state fairgrounds in Springfield and at Chicago’s two airports, plus additional gaming stations at existing casinos and slots for racetracks.

Quinn also said the bill would have undermined the authority of state regulators and opened the door to corruption. He specifically said he would veto the slots-at-tracks provision, which racing interests called essential to the future of the industry in Illinois.

The revised plan eliminated airport and fairgrounds gaming and scaled back expansion at existing casinos but retained the racetrack provision. With the threat of a veto looming, lawmakers shied away from the deal.

Quinn’s office issued a statement saying gaming legislation “needs more work, dialogue, and analysis.” The governor said he will “look forward to working with the General Assembly on this issue in the future.”

Insiders said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who lobbied heavily for the earlier version of gaming expansion, was much less involved in drumming up support for the compromise. Instead, he focused on other parts of his legislative agenda.