Monday, April 02, 2012

New gaming bill could meet
the same old obstacles

By Jamey Dunn

Supporters of expanding gambling in Illinois plan to push a revamped gaming bill when lawmakers return to session later this month.

A gaming bill passed both chambers last year, but Gov. Pat Quinn said he would not sign it as is, so lawmakers held it from ever going to his desk. The measure would have allowed for five new casinos, including one owned by the city of Chicago, and slot machines at horse racing tracks. Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said at the time that the changes Quinn wanted, which included taking out the slots at horse racing tracks, would never gain the support needed to pass. Quinn was, however, a vocal supporter of a Chicago casino.

Link said that a new gaming bill would be introduced when lawmakers return to Springfield after a two-week break that started today. “We will be presenting a bill that we hope will be a bill that can pass the Senate, the House and have the governor’s signature on it.”

Link and other supporters have been negotiating the new bill for months. “We’ve been working with the tracks. We’ve been working with the boats. We’ve been working with all other interested parties in this. We’ve been listening to their concerns.”

However, it seems that the positions of the different players have not changed much. “We’re still opposed to racinos — slots at the race tracks,” said Tom Swoik, the executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. “We’re not opposed to reasonable expansion in new markets.” Swoik said he thinks all interested parties have had a chance to voice their concerns and let lawmakers know how an expansion would affect those they represent. “I think this is the first time that we have all sat down in a room and talked numerous times.” However, he said he does not know what will be in the bill. “We’re not sure where this is going.”

Those in the horse racing industry would still like to see slots at tracks. “I am always open, as I want a gaming bill, and I want everybody to come together,” said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association. “I’m hopeful that Gov. Quinn will see why the bill will be necessary to help the horse racing industry. I’m hopeful. I’m cautiously optimistic.” Somone said he does not know the details of Link’s new bill.

Quinn’s office is in on negotiations, but publicly, the governor is sticking by the scaled-back plan that he proposed last year, the one that Link said couldn’t pass. “Governor Quinn continues to be open to a smaller, more moderate expansion that prevents corruption and provides adequate revenue for education. He laid out a strong framework last October outlining those standards,” Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Quinn, said in a written statement.


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