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updated: 5/2/2013 10:38 AM

Senate OKs huge gambling expansion plan

Illinois House is next for Link's huge gambling bill

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  • Existing casinos like the Grand Victoria in Elgin could face stiff competition under a plan to put slot machines at Arlington Park and new casinos throughout the area.

       Existing casinos like the Grand Victoria in Elgin could face stiff competition under a plan to put slot machines at Arlington Park and new casinos throughout the area.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer, 2002

  • A gambling bill approved by the Illinois Senate Wednesday would allow 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park.

       A gambling bill approved by the Illinois Senate Wednesday would allow 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Senate approved a large-scale, contentious, gambling proposal Wednesday that would allow for five new Illinois casinos, including ones in Lake County and Chicago, as well as slot machines at Arlington Park.

The massive proposal was presented by longtime gambling advocate state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. Hours before the vote, Link told a Senate committee that there could be an initial $1.2 billion influx of cash for the financially troubled state should lawmakers approve.

The Senate did, by a 32-20-1 vote, sending the plan to the Illinois House. Even though its future there is uncertain, lawmakers are already trying to shape the legislation to fit Gov. Pat Quinn's requests.

The governor has opposed gambling plans approved by lawmakers in the last two years, calling for more ethics provisions. If he gets them -- and if lawmakers approve legislation aimed at the state's pension debt -- Quinn might be more likely than ever to sign a gambling proposal.

"We've put a lot of stringent requirements in this bill to make sure the honesty and safety of gaming in this state is beyond any state," Link said.

Still, there are significant hurdles. Lawmakers have tried to expand gambling for years with no resolution.

First, more gambling options could mean more danger of addiction.

And critics worry that more gambling options could harm existing casinos. Already, the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines appears to be pulling players away from the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin.

Plus, because their revenues are already dropping, existing casinos might have "very little interest" in expanding as the legislation would allow them to, said Tom Swoik, president of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

The new proposal restricts where each new casino would be built and regulates how large each could be.

The Lake County casino could be built in Park City, North Chicago or Waukegan. It could provide gamblers with up to 1,200 separate gambling positions, usually either slot machines or table games.

The Chicago casino would provide up to 4,000 positions, a portion of which could be installed at O'Hare and Midway airports as slot machines.

Arlington Park would be allowed to operate up to 1,200 slot machines.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he supported the plan because of how important it was to Arlington Park, which is in his district.

"It is a jewel in my district," Murphy said. "It is a facility the people I represent want to see thrive and survive."

Outgoing Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder visited the Capitol to lobby lawmakers. Mulder, who served 20 years as mayor, has been advocating on behalf of Arlington Park racetrack for decades.

"I believe they have made a great effort to put in the controls that the governor wants," Mulder said.

Some of those controls include a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests and the creation of a new inspector gambling to watch over the industry.

The potential for new money created by new casinos and slot machines might make a gambling plan a bargaining chip in lawmakers' ongoing budget talks in Springfield. Their deadline for finishing a budget is May 31.

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