Illinois Proposal Calls for Slots

Illinois Proposal Calls for Slots
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After months of bitter political infighting and under the looming threat of a Chicago-area mass transit meltdown, Illinois lawmakers moved close Dec. 10 to a sweeping expansion of gaming that would include authorization for slot machines at racetracks.

The key player, House Speaker Michael Madigan, told his Democratic caucus in a letter he will support a plan to authorize three new casinos, including one in downtown Chicago, increase gaming positions at existing riverboat casinos, and legalize track-based slots.

Many difficult details remained to be worked out. But Madigan’s opposition to gaming expansion has been the key roadblock to a deal that would provide downstate and Republican lawmakers with money for construction projects in their districts --a quid pro quo for mass transit funding for the Chicago area.

Transit agencies promised draconian service cuts and fare hikes early in January, absent substantial new state aid.

“In light of this reality, and particularly out of a strong desire to see the unseemly drama over mass transit…brought to a conclusion, I am willing to embrace compromise and offer a sincere, serious proposal that will receive my full support and backing,” Madigan said in his letter.

His proposal would authorize 3,600 gaming devices at the state’s five racetracks that offer extended pari-mutuel meets. The tracks would pay a fee of $50,000 per gaming station.

Madigan said the legislature will meet again the week of Dec. 17 to consider the compromise. Legislative observers, noting the massive nature of the transit, gaming, and infrastructure legislation, and the measures’ interdependencies, cautioned against undue optimism.

However, Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Skokie and a longtime supporter of gaming expansion, said the deal is “99% there.” Issues still on the table include guarantees of minority representation in ownership of the proposed new casinos and overhaul and tightening of the Illinois Gaming Board. 

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