Illinois Casino Boat, Revenue for Racing Grounded

The "odd bedfellows" coalition that won passage of racing and gaming laws three years ago has degenerated into finger-pointing and name-calling. The odd turn of events threatens any chance for construction of a new riverboat casino in Rosemont, Ill., that is designed to pump tens of millions of dollars a year into the state's horse racing industry.

The key player in passage of the 1999 law was Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens, a wily, well-connected politico who has a long history of getting his way in deals that benefit his city. Racetracks had lobbied unsuccessfully for years to change the archaic laws that impact their operations. It was only when Stephens bundled that platform with a casino for his city that the legislature was spurred to action.

The casino, however, has been stalled by the Illinois Gaming Board's refusal to grant a license to the current owners and by a string of lawsuits. Stephens, apparently desperate to get the project up and running, is attacking his former allies.

The mayor reportedly charged that he was "snookered" by racing interests into a deal. By law, revenue from the riverboat casino would be divided several ways: the state, local governments, the operators of the facility, and the horse racing industry. Tracks and horsemen would split a 15% share of revenue.

Stephens said he was shocked to learn horse racing's share would amount to $60 million if the boat generates $400 million in annual revenue. Racing interests scoffed at any suggestion Stephens was misled, and said the mayor knew all along the industry's cut would be 15%.

"He's trying to shift the heat from him and Rosemont to anyone else," said Ed Duffy of Sportsman's Park.

There is no way to know how much money will go to the racing industry, Hawthorne owner Tom Carey said, because no one knows for sure how much business the boat will do. Racetrack officials noted the reason the horse racing industry was cut into the deal in the first place is the casino is expected to take business away from the tracks.

The issue remains before the Gaming Board.