Illinois Senate OKs bill allowing video gambling at horse-racing tracks

News-DemocratMay 1, 2013 

— The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved a gambling expansion bill that allows a new casino in Chicago, four new casinos elsewhere and video gambling at horse-racing tracks.

The measure passed 32-20 in the Senate and now goes to the House. If approved there, it would need the governor's signature.

Senate Bill 1739 is similar to bills passed by the General Assembly in 2011 and 2012. Those bills were rejected by Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he wanted any gambling expansion to include more safeguards against corruption.

The measure would allow a new casino in Chicago as well as new casinos in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and the south Chicago suburbs.

It also would allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks, including Fairmount Park in Collinsville, and at Chicago's airports.

Fairmount Park's racing secretary, Bobby Pace, said the track is hopeful this year's bill wins the approval of the governor. Pace said revenue from slots would allow the track to offer bigger race purses and remain competitive with tracks in other states, where slots are allowed at tracks.

"The way you enhance your racing program, is to be able to offer a larger purse," Pace said. "It would definitely have a positive effect on our racing program. It would improve the product."

The metro-east's four senators split their votes on the bill, and not along party lines. How they voted:

* Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville: No

* Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton: Yes

* Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville: Yes

* Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon: No

The expansion is expected to mean an additional $400 million to $1 billion annually in revenue for the state.

The measure does not include a provision to allow internet gambling, which had been part of earlier versions of the bill.

In response to Quinn's concerns about ethics, lawmakers added a ban on political contributions. The most recent proposal also addresses the Illinois Gaming Board's concerns over control of a Chicago casino. The legislation now says that the state board has regulatory control over the Chicago casino. Day-to-day operations fall to a city board that the mayor appoints.

The bill also creates two new state boards, which would make decisions on the awarding of grants from two new state funds. The funds would get a share of gambling proceeds. The Depressed Communities Economic Development Board would make recommendations on grants from the Depressed Communities Economic Development Fund, while the Commission on the Future of Economic Development of the Latino Community would make recommendations on grants from the Latino Community Economic Development Fund.

The bill also has a provision calling for an annual $5 million of tax revenue from gambling to go toward improvements at the State Fairgrounds. Another $3 million annually would go toward state and county fairs. And another $6.25 million annually would go to downstate soil and water conservation districts.

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