Illinois’ agriculture economy is fueled in large part by the hard work of Latino men and women across the State.
But that economy, and the livelihood of Latino families and communities, is at risk today because of Senate Bill 7, a sweeping gaming expansion that intentionally deprives racetracks of the opportunity to offer table games. If passed as is, Senate Bill 7 would strip Illinois of thousands of existing agribusiness jobs and prevent the collection of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue from gaming.
I recently introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 7 that authorizes table games at Illinois’ three surviving racetracks — Arlington, Fairmount and Hawthorne. This amendment would create an equitable playing field between the racetracks and casinos, adding millions of dollars in revenue, saving agribusiness jobs and creating thousands of new union jobs. My amendment protects the livelihood of many Latinos and drives new revenue to the state.
Passage of SB 7 without the table games amendment would damage Illinois agribusiness and continue the decline of the horseracing industry. There would be a disproportionate impact on the Latino community, which makes up a majority of the workforce at racetracks and throughout the State’s agribusiness.
The State is still in dire need of revenue. Illinois lawmakers have just asked taxpayers to increase their contribution, and we need to do our part to find opportunities to maximize revenue, too. Senate Bill 7 ignores just such an opportunity by not including table games at racetracks and denies Latino workers the opportunity to be part of the solution for Illinois.
This issue strikes close to home for me and my constituents. Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero is an economic engine. The iconic horseracing institution has been a pillar of the community for more than a century, providing good jobs, good wages and the opportunity for advancement.
Many of the jobs at horse farms are held by Latino workers without specific job training or skills. To deny them these jobs would destroy families and destabilize communities.
Throughout my career as a lawmaker, I’ve viewed issues through the lens of the human cost. The table games amendment is so much bigger than gaming and racetracks. This is about real lives and real families.
More than a dozen of my colleagues on the Latino Caucus and I recently sent a letter to Governor Bruce Rauner and State leadership to urge the amendment of this life-changing legislation.
All we’re asking for is a fair and equitable solution. Senate Bill 7 authorizes the development of six new casinos in Illinois and cheats the State’s racetracks of the same opportunity to compete. Why should we prop up one gaming industry just to tear down another?
Now consider the opportunity in front of us.
Authorizing table games at racetracks would add an additional 1,000 jobs above and beyond what slot machines alone could offer. It would bring millions of dollars of revenue to a State that sorely needs it.
This amendment enjoys broad support from the Illinois AFL-CIO, Unite HERE Local 450, Teamsters Joint Council 25, and Operating Engineers #399.
Four of Illinois’ seven racetracks have closed in the past 25 years. We cannot let that fate come to the remaining tracks. When lawmakers return to Springfield, we cannot pass Senate Bill 7 unamended.
Doing so would eliminate jobs, decrease state revenue, crush families and disproportionately harm Latino workers.
Let’s do the right thing and support Illinois jobs and agribusiness.
State Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez represents Illinois 24th District.