Prospects Brighten for Slots at IL Tracks

Odds seem to be improving that Illinois race tracks will get slot machines.

By Bob Kieckhefer

Odds seem to be improving that Illinois race tracks will get the slot machines they say are needed for their very survival.

The General Assembly passed legislation in its spring session authorizing slots at tracks, as well as a land-based casino for the Chicago Loop and other significant expansion of Illinois gaming. But the bill was held in the Senate after final passage there, rather than risk a veto by Gov. Pat Quinn, who called the bill top-heavy on expansion and short on regulation.

In the intervening months, supporters have tried to craft a compromise that could be approved in the upcoming fall veto session while opponents–including gaming regulators–have urged Quinn to veto the bill if it gets to his desk.

The campaign escalated in the first week of October with respected former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar–himself a major owner/breeder–weighing in during a lobbying trip to Springfield.

"The industry is going to rise or fall on this,” Edgar said. "If it doesn’t happen, you could see horse racing pretty much disappear in Illinois." The former governor's voice added to that of Chicago's Democrat Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is counting on Chicago casino money to help patch gaping holes in the city's budget.

As Edgar was making his pitch, legislative leaders were preparing "chaser" legislation that would address what they perceive to be Quinn's objections to the existing bill. They would not reveal details and Quinn said he has not seen any proposed changes.

However, departing from his previous negative stance, Quinn told a news conference in Danville, Ill., he now is preparing to lay out a course of action that would make the legislation acceptable.

"We will, this month, lay out some principles so legislators know, crystal clear, what the standards are," Quinn said in reply to a question. "We are not going to have any more gambling in Illinois, especially in Chicago, unless there is strong oversight that ensures integrity 100 percent of the time."

Despite the movement toward a compromise, supporters remain cautious. Slots at tracks have been an elusive goal for many years, with victory seemingly within reach a few times in the past only to slip away in the political murkiness of Springfield. And there are those who believe Senate leadership's decision to "put a brick on the bill" was not due entirely to fears of a veto.