House sponsor confirms: Gambling-expansion bill won't get vote this spring

News-DemocratMay 30, 2014 

DEREK HOLTMANN/BND

— The state legislator trying to craft a gambling-expansion proposal said Friday morning he will not call for a vote this spring on his tentative bill.

Fairmount Park in Collinsville hoped that a gambling expansion would allow the horse track to install slot machines. The Legislature's last scheduled day of the spring session is Saturday.

Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, was in charge of producing a gambling bill. He said one of the stumbling blocks was the inability to write a bill that is acceptable to Fairmount Park in Collinsville, the Casino Queen in East St. Louis and the city of East St. Louis.

Rita, who held multiple public hearings on the legislation this spring -- including one in East St. Louis -- said he'll try to revive the bill in the fall. For now, he said, the legislation lacks "the support needed for the bill to pass the Illinois House and Senate and be signed into law by the governor."

The Casino Queen and the city of East St. Louis, which gets 40 percent of its revenue from Casino Queen taxes, say their finances would take a major blow if slots are allowed at Fairmount. The track says it needs revenue from slots in order to prop up race purses, which currently aren't competitive with purses at tracks in other states which have slots.

There also was disagreement on how the local share of taxes from slots at Fairmount would be distributed. One proposal calls for 45 percent to go to East St. Louis, 45 percent to go to Alton and 10 percent to go to Collinsville. Another proposal calls for a distribution of 50 percent to Collinsville, 25 percent to East St. Louis and 25 percent to Alton.

Rita was offering two options in his current bill. One was a plan to add five casinos, including one in Chicago, plus slots at racetracks. There would have been 600 slots at each track in Cook County, and 450 slots at tracks outside Cook County, except for Fairmount. Fairmount was temporarily cut out of the bill, due to the disagreement between the track, the Casino Queen and East St. Louis.

The other option in Rita's bill called for only a state-owned casino in Chicago.

Existing casinos oppose the gambling-expansion plan, saying they're already facing significant revenue losses from slot machines at bars, restaurants and clubs, which were legalized last year.

Following is Rita's full statement:

"As the Illinois Legislature ends its spring session, I did not call Senate Bill 1739, the gambling expansion proposal I have worked on for a year now, for a vote. The time was not right to build the support needed for the bill to pass the Illinois House and Senate and be signed into law by the governor.

"I am disappointed we could not move this issue forward this spring, but I am determined to prepare a bill for consideration in the fall veto session. We will be considering important revenue and budget issues during that session. I believe gambling expansion should and will be a major factor as we make these critical decisions going into 2015.

"We still have a number of issues to work through before then. Chief among them are building support from the governor and mayor of Chicago, resolving disputes over revenue-sharing in several communities where expansion would happen and working to ensure we build on the gambling revenue we have in our state and not merely cannibalize it within our existing facilities. The public hearings we had this year produced important discussion on the challenges standing in the way of expansion. I plan to have more public hearings and meetings to further discuss these issues over the summer and fall.

"I want to put together a package that reflects the important role that horse-racing tracks and casinos play in our economy and for our state budget. We need the horse-racing industry and communities who want new casinos supporting this bill. My commitment is to find solutions for their issues, including restoring gaming positions at the race tracks and providing an agreement that allows slots at Fairmount Park in the metro-east. We should have a special opportunity to make our case for gambling expansion at the end of this year, and I want to do everything we can to take advantage of it."

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2511.

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