This year's gaming expansion proposal includes allowing slot
machines at the state's horse-racing tracks.
But the measure faces a rocky road. Demands from lobbyists for
racetracks, riverboat casinos and the video gaming/slot machine
industry coupled with protests from gambling opponents usually
topple any gaming proposal.
Sponsored by state Rep. Will Burns, D-Chicago, the initiative would
allow slot machines at the state's six racetracks, creating an
estimated 1,200 jobs and bringing in approximately $100 million from
licensing fees and $100 million to $300 million from the state's cut
of generated revenues.
"If we're going to get Illinoisans back to work, we're going to take
care of building our roads and bridges," Burns said. "We need to
have revenue to go into the capital project fund so we can bond against that and
put Illinoisans back to work."
Quinn has estimated the six-year road plan would bring in $12
billion in contracted work, with $5 billion coming in the first
year. However, lawmakers have been stumped on how to fund some of
the projects since money counted on from last year's legalization of
video gaming machines has not materialized.
Chicago and many communities have opted out of the law, refusing to
legalize the machines often found in bars, truck stops and fraternal
clubs. Burns said slots at the tracks could provide the $177.5
million originally expected from the legalized machines.
Rep. Mark Beaubien, R-Wauconda, sees the plan as an obvious move for
the state and the racetracks.
"There are many out there, including to some extent myself, who are
not major fans of gambling, but this does make sense," Beaubien
said. "They're gambling in a facility that already has gambling.
It's something that can be done rather quickly, and I think particularly for
downstate facilities ... it may actually save those facilities, save those jobs,
save those tracks."
However, a representative of Illinois' nine floating casinos said
more gaming in the state could seriously harm the industry.
"Revenues are down 30 percent, partially because of the smoking ban
and partially because of the economy," said Tom Swoik, executive
director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. "It just doesn't
make sense to us to open six new casinos when operations out there are losing so
Swoik also noted that placing slots at the tracks would essentially
create land-based casinos -- "racinos" -- which are currently illegal
in Illinois. Racetrack owners also would get the advantage of lower
overhead, since riverboat casinos are more costly to build and
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Burns said he isn't surprised at the casinos' objection.
"I would suspect that they would not be pleased. If you have a
monopoly on electronic gaming, you're likely not to want to end that
monopoly," Burns said. "But this proposal has been around for some
time, we've got a historical agreement, we have a real need for the state for
Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he sees both sides of the
issue since his district has both a racetrack and a riverboat
"We clearly need revenue, and this would enhance our revenue," Jacobs
said. "But there are some downsides."
But he's also concerned about overburdening the gaming industry.
"I think you have to be really careful here to make sure you don't
kill the goose that laid the golden egg, which is casino gaming in Illinois,
riverboat gaming, in order to get some revenue that we should be getting in
another way anyway."
Statehouse News; By JENNIFER WESSNER]