Action May Be Near on Illinois Riverboat

After years of wrangling, there is hope for action on a new riverboat casino near O'Hare International Airport that would pump tens of millions of dollars into Illinois horse racing.

Changes in Illinois gaming and racing laws approved two years authorized transfer of a dormant riverboat gaming license into Cook County. The compromise agreement specified that proceeds from the handle at that boat would be shared among the licensees, area municipalities, the University of Illinois and racing.

Racing's share will depend on volume of the handle at the casino but is estimated to be at least $20 million a year, split beween horsemen and tracks.

Work actually was begun in Rosemont on infrastructure for the casino in anticipation of approval by the Illinois Gaming Board. The board, however, voted early this year to deny the transfer of the license to the Rosemont ownership group, citing, among other objections, alleged ties between minority ownership and organized crime. The issue currently is in court and under administrative review.

Since that time, Gov. George Ryan has appointed two new members to the Gaming Board and recently named former state and federal prosecutor Philip C. Parenti to chair the board. Parenti's nomination could be the first step toward breaking the impasse.

Parenti said he is willing to take a new look at the Rosemont casino situation.

"The people of the state of Illinois are losing hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars when this gaming license is not in play," Parenti told the Chicago Tribune. "I mean, that's a fact. That money could go to the education of our children, toward shoring up law enforcement against terrorism, all kinds of things."