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updated: 5/25/2011 8:13 AM

Plan would add Arlington slots, a Lake County casino

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  • A proposal before the Illinois legislature would give Arlington Park 1,200 slot machines.

       A proposal before the Illinois legislature would give Arlington Park 1,200 slot machines.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Once again, lawmakers are gearing up for an 11th-hour debate over slot machines at Arlington Park and new casinos in Lake County, Chicago and elsewhere as the legislature's annual session winds down.

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and regular sponsor of gambling plans, introduced a new one Tuesday that should look familiar to those who watch the attempt to expand gambling nearly every year.

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His plan would allow Arlington Park to have 1,200 slot machines in an effort to find new money for the flagging horse racing industry. New casinos could be sited in Park City, Chicago, the south suburbs, Rockford and downstate Danville.

Existing casinos in Elgin, Aurora and the under-construction facility in Des Plaines would be allowed to expand.

Lang said that while the session deadline is quickly approaching, he didn't want to file his plan until he negotiated with lawmakers across the state.

"I've spent the last couple months trying to draft a good bill that I thought could pass and I think I have that bill," he said. "It's very much a statewide piece of legislation."

Success of the proposal is far from certain, though.

A similar proposal died earlier this year shortly after lawmakers voted to raise income taxes.

Opponents have argued that both the casino and horse racing industries in Illinois have seen clear declines in recent years, so adding more gambling competition could only hurt existing casinos.

And while some lawmakers could be convinced to support parts of a gambling package -- slots at Arlington Park for example -- a proposal that includes so many new wagering options often draws opposition.

Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican whose district includes Arlington Park, said he isn't sure he'd support slots at racetracks but said he's sure he wouldn't support a proposal as big as Lang's.

"I do not support a massive increase of gambling in Illinois," he said.

Supporters of expansion also face an enemy in the House and Senate's upcoming schedule.

Facing a May 31 deadline, lawmakers plan to at least approve a complex state budget and controversial new political map that is changed only once every 10 years.

Plus, negotiations over reforms to the workers' compensation system and big changes to the public employee pension plans also have lawmakers' attention.

Officials hungry for more money to pay off the state's billions of dollars in unpaid bills, though, might be willing to give the gambling plan a close look in the closing days of the annual session.

Taxes on new slot machines and casinos could lead to the state taking in millions of dollars in new money.

The plan could get a hearing as early as Wednesday morning.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Jeff Engelhardt contributed.

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