Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Illinois Senate talks gaming expansion

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois lawmakers rejected some changes made to bills by Gov. Pat Quinn and discussed a major gambling expansion on the first day of veto session.

The Illinois Senate is considering legislation to allow slot machines at horse racing tracks and new casinos in Chicago, the northern Illinois communities of Park City, Ford Heights and Rockford and the central Illinois town of Danville.

The Senate Gaming committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 3970 this afternoon. Sen. Terry Link, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the committee, said he expects a committee vote on the measure soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The debate comes on the heels of a recent report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which found that Illinois gambling revenues are at a 10-year low.

Opponents of the bill say it would do little to help struggling horse tracks but would instead start a push to eliminate horse racing in favor of the cheaper and more profitable slots machines. “It will transform six race tracks into land-based casinos that will do gambling that is very different than the gambling that they currently have going on,” said Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, an anti-gambling organization.

Critics say slot machines and video poker are more dangerous in terms of addiction because of the fast-paced nature of the games, which give players nearly constant psychological encouragement to continue playing.

Current casino owners say new locations would cut into their profits by stealing some of their customer base. However, Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said that new casinos would not put any current facilities out of business, and it would be unfair to discourage competition.

Charles Griffin, mayor of Ford Heights, told the committee that his town needs the jobs and revenue a casino could bring. Griffin said his town is one of the poorest in the nation,and lacks adequate basic services, such as well-maintained sewer systems and a police force. Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer also encouraged the committee to approve the legislation, saying his community needs to replace manufacturing jobs it has lost in recent years.

Veto votes

Meanwhile, the House overrode some of Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory vetoes with little debate. Legislators rejected Quinn’s changes to House Bill 5154, which would seal public employee evaluations from the public. Quinn said the evaluations should be open, with the exception of law enforcement personnel for security and safety reasons.

House members also overruled Quinn’s addition to HB 5206, which would allow citizens to present ethics legislation to the General Assembly if they can gather 100,000 petition signatures. HB 5206 originally was meant to allow county officials to electronically purge the names of deceased voters from voting rolls.

If the Senate approves the House’s overrides — which requires a 36-vote super majority — the bills will become law as originally passed.


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