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updated: 5/28/2011 12:19 AM

Committee approves gambling expansion; Quinn disagrees

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  • Gov. Pat Quinn criticized a gambling expansion plan Friday.

      Gov. Pat Quinn criticized a gambling expansion plan Friday.

 
By Jeff Engelhardt

SPRINGFIELD -- A plan to add 1,200 slots at Arlington Park and create five new casinos, including one in Lake County, cleared an initial hurdle Friday after being rejected by lawmakers earlier in the week.

The change of heart from a House committee could be thanks to a change in the plan that no longer requires racetracks to reach peace agreements with labor unions to be eligible for gambling licenses -- a measure that had kept Arlington Park officials from fully supporting the proposal.

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Other changes also were made to the proposal, including promising $2 million per year for three years to a foreclosure prevention fund and giving $25 million to various agriculture efforts in Illinois.

The legislation, proposed by Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, would use the increased gambling revenue to pay state bills. Lang says the state, facing painful budget cuts, could use the money.

The measure was approved by the committee 8-3 and could be up for a vote from the full House as early as Saturday.

But the opposition was loud and clear. Gov. Pat Quinn said the measure was so big that it would make Illinois "the Las Vegas of the Midwest."

And representatives of existing casinos like the Grand Victoria in Elgin argue that the added competition _ slots at race tracks and airports, as well as new casinos in Chicago, Park City, the South suburbs, Rockford and Danville _ could hurt an industry that is already struggling.

Tom Swoik, executive director for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said more casinos would not necessarily mean more revenue for the state.

"Revenues at existing casinos are down by a third." Swoik said. "Tripling the amount of gaming positions in the state of Illinois just doesn't make a lot of business sense."

Earlier Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn said he strongly opposed the plan.

"We can't have a top-heavy proposal in Illinois on gambling that's going to make us the Las Vegas of the Midwest, the people don't want that," Quinn said. "Every time the proposal comes along they keep adding on, adding on."

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