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updated: 6/1/2012 5:38 AM

Casino expansion, Arlington slots legislation goes to Quinn

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  • Lawmakers approved a proposal to bring slots to Arlington Park Thursday.

    Lawmakers approved a proposal to bring slots to Arlington Park Thursday.
    Daily Herald Photo Illustration

  • Lawmakers voted on a plan Thursday that would bring slot machines to Arlington Park and add casinos, including ones in Lake County and Chicago.

    Lawmakers voted on a plan Thursday that would bring slot machines to Arlington Park and add casinos, including ones in Lake County and Chicago.
    Associated Press

By Ryan Voyles

SPRINGFIELD -- A major gambling expansion plan that includes slot machines at Arlington Park and a casino in Lake County is headed toward another clash with Gov. Pat Quinn, who has regularly opposed slots at the track.

In the final hours before adjourning their annual session, the Illinois Senate approved the plan by a 30-26 vote Thursday night.

But Quinn has signaled he doesn't like it and said lawmakers shouldn't be distracted by "shiny objects" like gambling plans while they should focus on wading through the deep red ink of Illinois' finances.

John Schaumburg, an aide from Quinn's office, said Thursday the plan does not go far enough to address the governor's concerns over a lack of ethical oversight.

Still, state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and sponsor of the plan, said he wants to work with the governor to help bring in new revenue to the state.

In fact, Link said he filed legislation for consideration later that would add further ethics provisions, including a ban on campaign donations from some gambling interests.

"We took very careful consideration of some of the things the governor suggested," Link said.

The vote could set up a summer of deliberation by Quinn, but some supporters of expansion have already started to count votes, looking for ways to override a possible veto from the governor.

Both Link and the House sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, are confident they will have the support if it comes to overriding a veto.

"We'll have the votes in November if it comes to that," Link said.

The vote Thursday was praised by Arlington Park officials.

"It certainly will do a great deal for bringing more horses to the track, raising revenue and purses," said track spokesman Thom Serafin.

The existing casino industry has strongly opposed new casinos and slots at tracks, saying increased competition will hurt profits at existing facilities like the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin.

The Elgin casino has seen its revenues drop sharply since the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines opened last summer.

"Relying on these types of revenues is gambling itself," said state Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat. "It's a miracle when you win, and it's a reality when you lose."

Lawmakers have tried for more than a decade to expand gambling in Illinois, but have never been able to gain enough support. Last year was the first time a plan passed both chambers, but it was never sent to Quinn for fear he would veto it.

Unlike last year, some supporters believe they could override a veto by Quinn this year. Supporters have credited the potential for hundreds of millions in new revenue for growing support.

Link said the expansion could bring in millions of dollars in new revenue for the state.

Some proponents of horse racing have pushed for slots at tracks for years -- believing it essential to helping the struggling industry.

Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said the plan helps what he views as two of the important state industries, agriculture and horse racing.

"This is a lifeline, and if we're going to commit to those two industries, we need to move this plan," he said.

Other opponents worry about the social cost the plan could have on Illinois citizens.

"When you make gambling more accessible, there will be more people who gamble and they will lose," said Anita Bedell, a spokeswoman from the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems.

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