Illinois Deadlock a Problem for Racetrack Gaming

The Illinois Legislature missed its midnight May 31 adjournment deadline in a stalemate over the state's budget. The deadlock likely dooms efforts to expand gaming in the state, including slot machines or other revenue-producing plans for Illinois racetracks.

Senate Democrats attempted to move a gaming bill during their unusual Memorial Day weekend session but couldn't find enough support even within their own ranks. Senate President Emil Jones Jr. is the major supporter of the legislation.

In addition to on-track slots, the proposal calls for three new casinos, one of them a land-based facility in downtown Chicago. Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he will veto any bill containing a Chicago casino.

Beginning June 1, legislation requires a three-fifths majority for passage. The Democrat-controlled House and Senate now face the daunting prospect of patching up a budget hole estimated between $1 billion and $2 billion while catering to special interests of lawmakers from both political parties.

While revenue from expanded gaming would plug a big part of the deficit, political realities dictate the legislative leaders are likely to look elsewhere for solutions. However, the issue may not be totally dead. Whatever budget compromise is cobbled together in the coming weeks likely will require more revenue later this year.

Sen. James DeLeo, a Chicago Democrat, told the Chicago Tribune: "I think (gaming) would be revisited in the fall."

Racetracks also have seen their hopes dashed for a long-promised share of revenue from a now-dormant riverboat casino license. Earlier this spring, it appeared the license would be sold to a firm that would open a new boat in Rosemont, near O'Hare International Airport. But Attorney General Lisa Madigan quashed that deal, throwing the license back into a long court struggle.