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updated: 3/17/2011 7:38 PM

Slots at tracks gain support

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  • Arlington Park could have more than horse racing in future seasons under a plan by Skokie Democrat Lou Lang for the addition of slot machines at horse-racing tracks across the state to save the struggling industry.

       Arlington Park could have more than horse racing in future seasons under a plan by Skokie Democrat Lou Lang for the addition of slot machines at horse-racing tracks across the state to save the struggling industry.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
By Jeff Engelhardt

SPRINGFIELD -- Another effort to allow slot machines at Arlington Park burst out of the gate Thursday, but how much farther it will run remains an open question.

Rep. Lou Lang's latest gambling expansion attempt includes no new casinos, a provision that's usually a staple of such proposals.

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But the Skokie Democrat's offer includes tax breaks for existing casinos in an effort to gain some support from an industry that has opposed the addition of slots at tracks in the past.

A representative for the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin still opposes the plan, though. And Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and gambling expansion supporter, has said he wants to see new casinos in a new gambling package.

Still, a House panel of lawmakers approved the measure by a 6-5 vote. It now moves to the House floor where some of those who voted "yes" said they still may choose to vote the plan down if no changes are made.

Lang argues the struggling horse racing industry needs the money generated by slot machines to survive.

"The horse racing industry is dying on the vine," Lang said.

But even the horse-racing tracks that would get slot machines are hesitant to support the legislation because it requires the Illinois Gaming Board to finish greenlighting some video gambling machines in bars before the tracks could get their slots.

Implementation of video gambling has been stagnant and a pending state Supreme Court decision could end it completely. Senate President John Cullerton also has proposed eliminating the program altogether.

The same House committee also approved a proposal to lift the state's indoor smoking ban in casinos.

Jay Keller, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming which operates casinos in Illinois, said Illinois casino revenue has decreased more than border states because of the smoking ban.

"Gamblers choose to smoke ... they are choosing to go to Indiana," he said.

Under the proposal, casino employees could not be forced to work in smoking-designated areas, and casinos would have to have advanced ventilation systems.

Smoking opponents say there's no safe way to smoke in public places.

"There is no safe level of secondhand smoke," said Heather Eagleton, state advocacy manager for the American Cancer Society.

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