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updated: 1/13/2011 8:19 PM

Why did the gambling plan die?

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  • Existing Chicago-area casinos like the Grand Victoria in Elgin could have seen their revenues drop further if a huge gambling expansion plan would have been approved in Springfield.

       Existing Chicago-area casinos like the Grand Victoria in Elgin could have seen their revenues drop further if a huge gambling expansion plan would have been approved in Springfield.
    Chris Hankins | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- The most recent wrangling over whether lawmakers should welcome more casinos and slot machines into Illinois was heated and lasted for months.

But legislation that would have led to slot machines at Arlington Park and five casinos throughout the state died a quiet, surprising death this week.

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Supporters of the horse-racing industry say they were told Tuesday the plan had support in the Illinois House and would come to a vote sometime after the debate over the controversial tax increase.

But then, the House adjourned for the night, ended lawmakers' two-year terms and killed the gambling legislation in the process.

Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who ushered the legislation through the Senate, said he still doesn't know why Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, didn't call for a vote in the House.

"I take blood pressure pills," Link said on the Senate floor Thursday. "And I should be taking extra."

Lang Thursday said he got the sense Gov. Pat Quinn might veto the legislation, killing it even if the House approved.

"It is not ever my intention to string members out on this floor and make them vote for controversial issues for no purpose," Lang said.

Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson wouldn't say Thursday what the governor would have done had the proposal landed on his desk. But in the past, Quinn has called gambling expansion a "bad bet."

Link and others argued that new casinos would bring the state more revenue at a time when its budget is in crisis. And the declining Illinois horse-racing industry stood to get a boost if race tracks had slot machines.

"It's very tough on a lot of people," said Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin.

Critics had pushed hard against the legislation, saying Illinois had enough gambling options already. More casinos and slot machines could lead to more problem gamblers, they argued. And existing casinos are already losing revenue because of the economy and the state's indoor smoking ban.

Plus, the state raised its income tax rate when Quinn signed the legislation Thursday.

"Illinois acquired a good portion of the revenue it needs to dig itself out of the financial hole we are in," said Doug Dobmeyer, spokesman for The Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield in February. Link says he doesn't plan to wait until the usual late-May push to try to get another gambling expansion plan going.

Lang has similar intentions.

But Link said next time he'll try to keep the gambling legislation out of Lang's hands in the House.

"I think you will see something move very quick," Link said.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Jeff Engelhardt contributed to this report.

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