SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday he will not accept slot machines at Illinois horse racing tracks — including the Illinois State Fairgrounds — a key component of a gambling expansion bill passed last spring, but which has still not been sent to him.
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday he will not accept slot machines at Illinois horse racing tracks — including the Illinois State Fairgrounds — a key component of a gambling expansionbill assed last spring, but which has still not been sent to him.
Quinn said he can accept new casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Lake County and southern Cook County.
But he said the bill needs other major revisions dealing with oversight and taxes on gambling, and that slot machines at horse racing tracks and Chicago airports must be eliminated.
As it stands, Quinn said, he would veto the bill.
“Casino gambling at 14 (new) locations in Illinois is way too much,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference. “We have no interest in this state becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest.”
Eliminating slot machines at race tracks could well erode support for the gambling bill from lawmakers representing agricultural areas. Revenue from the slot machines would go toward the state’s ailing racing industry.
“My focus all along was to incorporate language in the bill that will allow the (horse racing) industry to revive itself and move forward,” said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, who supported the legislation. “My concern with removing that language, what will it do to the industry? I think it jeopardizes it unless the governor has another plan.”
“I don’t know why any legislator from an ag area would vote for that,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, of a gaming bill that didn’t include slots for horse racing tracks.
‘No reason’ to be for it
The bill, Senate Bill 744, passed the House with five votes to spare. It received the bare minimum needed to pass the Senate.
“If you take the tracks out, it will not pass the House,” predicted Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, the lead Senate sponsor of the gambling expansion bill.
Link is working on a follow-up bill to address concerns raised by Quinn Monday. The follow-up legislation would not eliminate slots at horse racing tracks, he said. However, asked if expanded gambling at the fairgrounds would be part of a follow-up bill, Link said, “I don’t remember.”
“I don’t think there is as strong of a will at the fairgrounds as at other tracks,” Link said.
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, flatly said he thinks the gambling expansion bill is dead without aid to the horse racing industry.
“There’s no reason for downstaters to vote for it (the governor’s proposal),” Bomke said. “The only reason I was interested in voting for it was to help the horse racing industry out. In addition, the money (that would help) county fairs, the 4-H, would be gone as well.”
Quinn said the horse racing industry got an influx of $141 million in August, its share of casino profits that have been held in escrow while a court case was pending. He said the industry could get nearly $60 million this year under existing state law.
“Horse racing and related industries are receiving generous support,” Quinn said. “The fact we don’t have casino gambling at racetracks does not mean the state is not supporting the horse industry.”
“That’s not enough to allow the industry to expand and grow,” said Sullivan of the status quo.
Quinn ‘final word’
Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, House sponsor of the expansion bill, also said he won’t support something that doesn’t include slots at the racetracks. Without it, he said, other states will take Illinois’ breeders, jockeys and horse owners.
“He’s basically told them to go away,” Lang said. “It’s a mistake that will cost us at least 40,000 jobs. I think it is a very glaring mistake.”
Quinn outlined what he called a “framework” for a gaming bill he could support. Along with scaled-down expansion, Quinn wants stronger oversight of expanded gambling operations, including giving the Illinois Gaming Board oversight of a Chicago casino. Under the bill, a Chicago casino would have a separate oversight authority.
“The regulator should not be the operator,” Quinn said.
The governor also wants to overhaul the gambling tax structure in the expansion bill so that more money comes to the state, particularly for education.
“We do not need excessive tax breaks for lucrative casinos,” he said. “Unless these principles are followed, there’s no way I will sign a bill. The bottom line is I’m the final word.”
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has been holding onto the expansion bill – Senate Bill 744 – until Quinn outlined his concerns.
“Now that the governor has articulated his proposed changes, we will fold his recommendations into our ongoing discussion of how we can make the gaming bill better for the state,” said a statement issued by Cullerton’s office. “Additionally, we will be evaluating the governor’s framework in light of what is passable by both chambers of the General Assembly.”
Link said he thinks a compromise is possible.
“We’re addressing a lot of his concerns,” Link said. “We’re not a mile apart, maybe a half or quarter mile apart. If he doesn’t have his heels dug in the sand, we can make it work.”
Statehouse reporter Chris Wetterich contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.
Quinn framework for gambling expansion
*Eliminate slot machines at horse racing tracks.
*Ban campaign contributions from gaming licensees and casino managers.
*Require communities to opt into video gaming if they want it. Now, communities must opt out of video gaming if they don’t want it.
*Eliminate some tax reductions for casinos contained in the expansion bill.
*Speed up license payments due to the state from new casinos and require competitive bidding to win licenses
*Place all oversight of a proposed Chicago casino under the Illinois Gaming Board rather than a new authority.
*Give the Gaming Board more time to conduct background investigations of new casino operators.