Gambling expansion could be back on the table in Springfield
Would a new gambling plan considered by state lawmakers include slot machines at Arlington Park?
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SPRINGFIELD — Supporters of more gambling in Illinois hope to roll the dice again on a proposal in Springfield this year, but it remains to be seen whether any future attempt goes further than others proposed over the last decade.
"It seems like every year for the past 10 years something comes up," said Tom Swoik, executive director for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, whose members include the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and the Hollywood Casino in Aurora.
But it often always goes down, too, as lawmakers and governors fail to find compromise.
Meetings between interested parties, including racetrack and casino representatives and lawmakers, have been going on for months, and state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, hopes to introduce a plan as early as this week.
"We've been listening to what the best advantages (are) for the state of Illinois," Link said.
But the past is filled with dashed hopes about gambling expansion.
Last year's proposal, which would have allowed five new casinos as well as slot machines at race tracks like Arlington Park, was as close as Illinois has come to seeing a large-scale gambling expansion in more than a decade. The plan was passed by the General Assembly in the spring, but never sent to Gov. Pat Quinn, who threatened to veto any gambling bill with slots at racetracks or fairgrounds.
A slimmed-down version of the plan was rejected by the Illinois House last fall, but Arlington Park leaders have created an alliance of local leaders to try to revive it.
With details of any new proposal still unknown, suburban lawmakers said they wanted more information before they say how they would vote on it. They did express doubt on whether anything would change this year.
"I don't know how this bill will be different from what we've already seen in the past," said Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican who opposed prior expansion proposals.
With the last part of the spring session expected to focus largely on the state's budget, it's possible gambling might take a back seat to other pressing issues.
Among the points of contention is what to do about slot machines at the race tracks. Advocates for the horse racing industry have pushed for slots at the race tracks for years, as they view it as essential to helping the struggling industry.
But Quinn has rejected the idea, instead favoring what his spokeswoman calls a "smaller, more moderate expansion" of gambling.
To get around the governor's objections, there has been talk of new and existing casinos setting aside cash subsidies for the horse racing industry. It's a move Swoik said the casinos would be open to, but those in the horse industry are less receptive.
"Subsidies don't work," said Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin. "And taxpayers don't like to see subsidies."
Race tracks were supposed to receive subsidies, under a years-old deal, when the 10th Illinois casino — Rivers Casino in Des Plaines — opened last summer. However, lawmakers must vote to disburse the money collected from the casino, a move that has yet to happen.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield this week and meet regularly through May 31.
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