Racetrack Slots Has Supporter in Illinois Legislature

Expansion of gaming--including slot machines for racetracks--is back on the agenda at the Illinois state capital, and this time around, straws in the wind indicate the issue may have a bit more traction than in past legislative sessions.

Democratic Rep. Lou Lang said Jan. 30 he would sponsor legislation authorizing four new Illinois casinos, including one in Chicago, and that his proposal also would allow slots at the state’s racetracks. Lang didn’t specify details of the racetrack portion of his proposal. He did say, however, that he has cleared his idea with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who in the past has opposed expansion of gambling.

“I met with the governor on the bill, but not the details,” Lang said. “All I want to know is will you stay out of the way? He said yes, which is not what he said before.”

A spokeswoman for Blagojevich said the governor isn’t proposing additional gaming as he prepares his new budget. But she said: “We’ll look at lawmakers’ ideas.”

Blagojevich is a Democrat, and Democrats also control both houses of the Illinois General Assembly. The party, however, is far from united on a political agenda. Senate President Emil Jones long has sought a Chicago casino as part of a gaming package. House Speaker Michael Madigan has blocked that plan.

The state is in such dire need of new revenue that Blagojevich has suggested selling or leasing the state lottery to raise money, an idea considered dead on arrival in the legislature. An impasse on other new revenue sources could open the door for movement of a gaming package.