Illinois Bill Calls for 3,200 Slots at Five Racetracks

A key Illinois lawmaker has unveiled comprehensive gaming legislation that would authorize 3,200 slot machines for Illinois racetracks.

The plan, announced May 7 by Rep. Lou Lang, chairman of the House Select Committee on Gaming, would permit 1,000 machines at Arlington Park, 900 at Hawthorne Race Course, 700 at Maywood Park, 300 at Balmoral Park, and 300 at Fairmount Park. The legislation also would earmark 15% of the revenue from track-based slots for purse accounts.

The legislation as introduced by Lang, a Skokie Democrat, also would legalize video poker and a Chicago riverboat casino. The legislation is unlikely to pass in its current form, but some version of gaming reform is almost certain to become law because the state desperately needs the additional money it would produce.

A proposal floating around the Illinois Senate but not yet formally introduced has provisions similar to Lang's but with fewer slot machines for each track.

"Illinois must respond dramatically to replace lost revenue," Lang said. "This package will replace lost tax money, generating next year alone between $1.7 billion and $2.6 billion in new money."

Both Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in recent weeks have indicated they would be willing to accept expansion of gaming to produce new tax revenue.

Lang's bill has some hooks for racetracks. Among other things, it would impose a $1 admission tax on racetrack patrons; require a one-time license fee of $50,000 per gaming position in Cook County and $25,000 downstate; require the Illinois Racing Board to award the same number of live racing dates in subsequent years that it awarded for 2003; mandate the return of Standardbred racing to Fairmount; and apply a slightly reduced gross receipts tax on gaming revenue.

Tracks would give up their right to a slice of the revenue from a currently unused 10th Illinois riverboat casino license and state funding that "recaptures" revenue lost to full-card simulcasting.