Slot Legislation Push On Again in Illinois

Tracks say slots are critical for their survival and for state's economic health.

By Bob Kieckhefer

Illinois race tracks, in the closing days of the spring legislative session, again are pushing legislation that would allow them to add slot machines to boost revenue.

The legislation would be part of a larger package designed to create revenue for capital spending as the state struggles to make ends meet on its operating budget. Tracks have proposed similar plans for many years, always coming up short in the face of opposition by riverboat casinos, opponents of expanded gaming and political infighting.Arlington Park President Roy Arnold raised the stakes significantly in an interview with the Daily Herald editorial board, published in the May 4 editions.

If Arlington gets authorization for 1,200 slot positions, he said, the track quickly will begin development of gaming, retail, entertainment, and other infrastructure. If it does not, he added, "We will go out of business. There is no question about that."

Arnold was joined in the editorial board meeting by Michael Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. The ITHA announced late last month it had reached agreement with Illinois tracks for division of slot machine revenue on a sliding scale, based on total handle.

Hawthorne Race Course President Tim Carey said Tuesday in a news release the legislation is critical not only for the racing industry, but for Illinois.

"Lawmakers are looking for reasonable, incremental solutions to address Illinois' core economic woes," Carey said, "and authorizing slots at Illinois race tracks is an achievable solution with bipartisan support that can provide an immediate economic jolt across the entire state."

The legislature is targeting adjournment at the end of the week. However, little has been done to put together a realistic budget for the new fiscal year and, with an election looming and voter resentment high, the session is likely to be extended one way or another.