Track Funding Bill Stalled in Illinois Legislature

With time running out in the spring session, legislation that would divert more than $50 million a year from Illinois riverboat casinos to the horse racing industry has stalled in the state House of Representatives.

The measure, House Bill 1917, provides that 3% of casino boats' adjusted gross receipts be paid to a newly created Horse Racing Equity Trust Fund. Legisaltive analysts pegged the amount generated by the measure at about $53 million annually.

Supporters argue the bill would "make good" on a compromise passed in 1999 which allowed dockside gaming and made other concessions to the floating casinos. The quid pro quo for the racing industry was a 15% share of the revenue from an unused, tenth state riverboat license.

That license, however, has never been put into operation and remains tied up in a knot of legal wrangling. At the time of the 1999 compromise, insiders say, the 3% tax on all riverboats was discussed as an alternative to 15% of the tenth license.

For racing, the upshot of the 1999 legislation was a double whammy. Not only was promised new revenue never delivered to the tracks, but the operational freedoms granted the riverboat casinos made them a much more potent competitor for gaming dollars.

Rep. Robert Molaro, who has taken over sponsorship of H.B. 1917 from Rep. Lou Lang, said he had hoped for House consideration during the week ending March 24. Instead, the measure was held on postponed consideration and a new amendment, reducing the amount due to racing by about one-third, was filed and also held.

The General Assembly is scheduled to wrap up its spring session at the end of the first week in April and still must consider and pass the state budget. Given that time constraint, only a sudden, unlikely consensus could lead to passage of any gaming legislation. However, the post-election fall "veto" session will provide room for maneuvering on this and other issues and supporters remain hopeful a compromise can be reached.