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Article updated: 9/27/2013 5:30 AM

Who's challenging Durbin? Settle it in a poker game

By Mike Riopell

State Sen. Jim Oberweis' statements that he'll consider running in the 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate came with a joke acknowledging how tough a statewide race is.

The Sugar Grove Republican quipped that he'd settle it in a poker game with fellow conservative and former Republican congressman Joe Walsh of McHenry.

"The loser has to run against Durbin," Oberweis said, referring to veteran Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield.

Oberweis finished second in primary races for Senate in 2002 and 2004.

Checkmate

Walsh told me a month ago he's eyeing the seat, too. But neither has made a firm commitment to the race.

"I'm not there yet," Oberweis said.

Oberweis said, on second thought, he'd change the game from poker to chess because he's more confident of his chances to beat Walsh.

Meanwhile ...

Republican candidate Doug Truax of Downers Grove is still campaigning hard for the U.S. Senate seat, his spokesman said. And Republican Chad Koppie of Gilberts is gathering petitions, too.

Playing ponies online

Our sports scribe Mike Spellman explained this week how the racing schedule at Arlington International Racecourse could depend on lawmakers' further approval of betting on horses online.

The law allowing Internet gambling on horses in Illinois expired at the end of 2012. Lawmakers extended it through January 2014. If it isn't extended again, the Illinois Racing board says it won't have the money to regulate a full slate of races.

State Rep. Lou Lang, the Skokie Democrat who worked for the most recent extension, said gambling on horses online is "something we need to keep." "The racing board actions should give impetus to interest groups and legislators," he said.

Not that simple?

Lang said he'd prefer the cause get taken up in greater gambling expansion legislation -- like the one that has stalled for years. New casinos. Slots at the tracks. Internet gambling. The works.

"We should take the necessary steps to clean up all gaming issues in the state," Lang said.

It might be tough to do by the racing board's deadline, especially because next year is an election year. And this year, lawmakers weren't able to send Gov. Pat Quinn a gambling expansion package like they have the previous two years.

Stay tuned.

In flux

"You can ask me any hour of the day where we're at, and I'd have a different answer for you."

That's state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, on the ongoing talks over teachers' and state workers' pensions.

Lawmakers are set to return to Springfield at the end of next month, and that could be one issue on their plates.

Who's backing whom?

This week, state Rep. JoAnn Osmond, an Antioch Republican who isn't running for re-election in 2014, said she's backing state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale for governor. Dillard is running in the March 18 GOP primary against state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, businessman Bruce Rauner of Chicago and Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa.

And U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Winfield Republican, will support state Rep. Darlene Senger for Congress in the 11th District over Chris Balkema of Channahon and Ian Bayne of Aurora.

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