Racing board optimistic about gambling expansion in state

News-DemocratMay 21, 2013 

— State horse racing advocates are more confident that gaming at horse tracks will become a reality in Illinois.

This topic was a major focus of the Illinois Racing Board's meeting held Tuesday morning at Fairmount Park in Collinsville. The Illinois Senate, as it has in each of the last two years, has passed a gambling expansion bill, SB 1739. It would clear the way for slot machines at Fairmount Park and the state's four other horse-racing venues as well as four new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago.

The bill was approved by the Senate earlier this month and is similar to those passed by the General Assembly in 2011 and 2012. However, Gov. Pat Quinn rejected the last two bills because he said he wanted any gambling expansion to include more safeguards against corruption.

Illinois Racing Board Chairman William Berry said the governor's concerns are being met with the bill.

"Many of those reasons for the veto was a limitation, really an elimination, of the ability to contribute to campaigns if you're engaged in it," Berry said. "That's in the bill now.

"There appears to be consensus on the bill that includes many of the questions and the modifications that the governor wanted when he vetoed the bill last August. There has been a great deal of work done."

Racing board executive director Marc Laino said the state's horse racing industry is at a pivotal point, where it is likely to see a contraction if on-track gaming is not legalized in Illinois -- as it has in surrounding states like Iowa and Indiana. He said the issue is that Illinois tracks struggle to compete for horses when they cannot offer as high daily purses that neighboring tracks can.

"It's critical to the industry that the alternative revenue stream to be provided by electronic gaming be a applied to purses in horse racing," Laino said. "It gives an infusion of cash to offer higher purses and to revive the racing industry. It's an economic issue for the industry."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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