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updated: 1/11/2011 10:39 PM

Huge gambling expansion plan dies

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SPRINGFIELD -- A hotly debated plan that could have changed the way suburban residents gamble through the construction of new casinos and installation of slot machines at Arlington Park died when the Illinois House adjourned late Tuesday night.

The massive gambling expansion proposal was never debated on the House floor. And though it was approved by the Senate late last year, it now has to start from scratch when new lawmakers are sworn in Wednesday.

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The most recent proposal would have allowed Arlington Park to have 1,200 slot machines and allow for five new casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago, Park City, Rockford and the South suburbs.

The track pushed for slot machines to be able to compete with casinos and try to revive the state's flagging horse racing industry.

But opponents argued that existing casinos are dealing with dropping revenues already, so it doesn't make sense to open more casinos or turn nearby racetracks into casinos that would compete with them.

Still, a state strapped for cash could have used the revenue generated by new casinos.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who sponsored the plan, said he was disappointed the legislation was not pushed and did not know why state Rep. Lou Lang failed to call it for action in the House.

"Here was $1 billion that could have helped alleviate a lot of problems in the state, and it was within minutes of being passed," Link said. "And for some various reason, that I have no knowledge of, it wasn't called."

Expanding gambling in Illinois has always been politically complicated. And while it's proposed nearly every year, it often fails.

The legislation this year expanded to try to attract votes from lawmakers of various regions and interests. But in the end, critics said the proposal was too huge, and it never got a vote.

Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he was among those who were conflicted about the proposal. He said he didn't like the size of the expansion.

"But I also don't like the idea of Arlington Park going away," he said.

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