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updated: 12/2/2010 12:50 PM

Illinois Senate OKs massive gambling expansion

Bill calls for 1,200 slots at Arlington, five new casinos

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SPRINGFIELD -- A gambling-expansion proposal that would have big implications for the suburbs was approved Wednesday evening by the Illinois Senate.

The plan would allow for 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park, as well as new casinos in Park City, the south suburbs, Chicago, Rockford and downstate.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said new casinos and slot machines would mean more cash directed to the state, which is struggling immensely to pay its own bills.

Link said some lawmakers unfairly view the casino industry as "evil."

"But yet, they give a billion dollars a year to us," Link said. "They're helping a lot of people in the state of Illinois."

Even though the Senate signed off, the legislation faces an uncertain future when it moves to the Illinois House.

Considering large gambling packages is a nearly annual ritual in Springfield, but such plans rarely find enough support for approval. The Senate has approved gambling expansion before, but the House rarely follows suit.

And Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters before the vote that he's not a fan of the idea.

"I'm not for top-heavy expansion of gambling," Quinn said.

Asked if Link's plan was "top-heavy," Quinn said: "It seemed awfully top-heavy to me."

The Senate approved the bill by a 31-20 vote after almost no debate on the Senate floor.

Many of the opposing votes came from Republicans, many of whom thought the gambling package was just too large. Other opponents have said new casinos around the Chicago area would take business away from the existing Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and the under-construction casino in Des Plaines.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican who represents Arlington Heights, said he'd consider supporting legislation that allowed Arlington Park to have slot machines in order to help the track and drive more money into the community.

But because the plan also calls for new casinos and other provisions, he said it was just too big.

"The biggest concern for me is just the massive expansion," Murphy said. "It was too much."

Link acknowledged the proposal was "huge."

"But we have a huge deficit in the state of Illinois," he said.

Link has argued that the legislation has to be huge in order to succeed because it must satisfy many interests the casino industry, horse racing industry, and others.

Link has said the new casinos and slot machines at horse tracks could net the state as much as $1 billion more in revenue every year.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said he also thought the legislation was too big, but supported it in order to help the struggling horse racing industry.

"When these jobs are lost, they are next to impossible to replace," Dillard said.

While the legislation moves to the House, it almost certainly won't be called for a vote anytime soon. The House adjourned its scheduled session Wednesday and isn't expected to return until early January.

Meanwhile, a plan in the House to allow for smoking on casino gambling floors has stalled and also wouldn't be eligible for more debate until next year.