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updated: 10/23/2011 6:49 AM

Quinn already moved to expand gambling, legislators say

Lawmakers say Gov. Quinn's already expanded gambling

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  • Volponi and jockey Jose Santos cross the finish to win the Breeders Cup Classic in 2002 at Arlington Park. Horse racing advocates say Gov. Pat Quinn made the wrong choice when he trimmed slots at race tracks but kept five casinos in his gambling alternative.

       Volponi and jockey Jose Santos cross the finish to win the Breeders Cup Classic in 2002 at Arlington Park. Horse racing advocates say Gov. Pat Quinn made the wrong choice when he trimmed slots at race tracks but kept five casinos in his gambling alternative.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer October 2002

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's message last week was clear: Slot machines at Arlington Park, other race tracks around the state and the Chicago airports add up to too much gambling for Illinois.

The suburbs in particular would be flooded with new betting options under the plan Quinn decried, since three of the new casinos are slated for the Chicago region -- in Lake County, Chicago and the South suburbs -- and a fourth is a short drive away in Rockford. Quinn said he's OK with the new casinos; he's not OK with slots at the tracks and airports.

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But suburban lawmakers of both parties say Quinn has already signed legislation with more far-reaching consequences than slot machines at race tracks.

In 2009, he put pen to paper to allow video poker and other similar machines into every Illinois establishment that has a liquor license.

"Video poker is probably a lot more of an expansion than anything we're talking about right now," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and architect of the plan Quinn has criticized. "What we're trying to do now is minor compared to that."

State gambling regulators are working on greenlighting those machines, but many suburbs have already outlawed them, as have Cook, Lake, DuPage and McHenry counties in the unincorporated areas. And Quinn has suggested making it more difficult for bars to obtain slot machines in return for his approval of a limited expansion of casino gambling.

Many other suburbs remain undecided, though, leaving the potential for video gambling machines at bars throughout the suburbs if the law doesn't change.

"It's the most addictive form of gambling," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican. "And it's everywhere."

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor was the one who pushed to allow local officials to outlaw the slot machines in the first place and that he signed off because the state needed a construction plan that was long-delayed under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"The governor has never been a big advocate of gambling," Anderson said. "The governor wanted a jobs bill."

Quinn has proposed only allowing video gambling in communities that endorse its presence. But Quinn's new gambling plan -- his OK of a Lake County casino, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's coveted Chicago casino and all the rest of the complex legislation -- will likely die because eliminating slots at the tracks would significantly upset the delicate political balance that led to lawmakers approving gambling expansion.

And Dillard says he'll introduce legislation this week that would abolish video gambling. Because tax money from the machines is intended to pay for the state's 2009 road and bridge building program, Dillard's plan would use the sales tax on gasoline to pay for the construction. In the past, Dillard has proposed eliminating the sales tax on gasoline, without success.

But another effort, this one by the Illinois Lottery, could potentially bring gambling to every Internet connection in Illinois. In an effort to maximize profits, the Illinois Lottery has asked the federal government whether it can legally sell tickets online. Department of Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer says the federal government is still reviewing the idea.

In fact, despite all the talk about casinos, horse racing and even video gambling in bars, it's the Illinois Lottery that creates the most tax revenue for the state.

A recent report by a bipartisan legislative commission showed that in 2010, the Illinois Lottery made up almost 66 percent of the state's gambling revenues. Casinos were almost 34 percent. Horse racing was less than 1 percent.

Four years ago, the report points out, casinos made up 52 percent of the state's revenues, "which highlights the recent decline in riverboat figures," it said.

Horse racing betting has steadily declined, too, a trend that Dillard says is the sole reason he voted for the gambling expansion proposal. The slot machines are coveted by racetrack owners, who say the additional revenue could help keep them afloat.

Dillard says he agreed with Quinn earlier this year when the governor began publicly saying the gambling plan was too big. But, as it turns out, they didn't agree on what was too big about it.

"I thought that he meant the addition of five new casinos, not slots, which benefit agriculture, at the racetracks," Dillard said. "To me, that's the top-heavy part."

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