Link: Gambling plan should have slots at Arlington Park
SPRINGFIELD -- State Sen. Terry Link said Thursday that he expects any effort to expand gambling in Illinois will include slot machines at Arlington Park.
Link, a Waukegan Democrat and top gambling-expansion supporter, said allowing for slot machines at Illinois race tracks is the only way to get lawmakers to approve a gambling expansion package that also likely would include new casinos, including in Lake County and in Chicago.
An alternative would have casinos pay a subsidy to race tracks instead of allowing slot machines at the tracks.
Both ideas have been considered as gambling expansion supporters try to strike a deal before lawmakers are scheduled to finish their work in Springfield at the end of the month. But Link said slot machines at racetracks are key to getting a bill passed.
"That's the way it would pass both chambers," he said. A proposal could come forward in the coming weeks.
Gov. Pat Quinn, though, hasn't publicly moved from his position that the tracks shouldn't have slot machines and is trying to keep all eyes in Springfield on controversial, complex budget proposals.
"Any gaming talk right now is a distraction from solving the real and big challenges that Illinois faces," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. "As the governor has said over and over, Illinois can't afford to be distracted right now from confronting our fiscal challenges, which are threatening our ability to ensure core services like education and public safety."
Gambling expansion supporters also are pushing for five new casinos and arguing the cash-strapped state could use the tax money that could come from more gambling options.
Slots at the racetracks have been a sticking point, though. The idea of a subsidy paid from casinos to the horse racing industry has been discussed seriously but mostly dismissed by Arlington Park.
Track officials say the state can't be trusted to transfer the money. A subsidy that's already supposed to be going from the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines to the horse racing industry is being held up by the state.
Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, did not rule out lawmakers trying to move gambling legislation that already exists, instead of coming up with a new plan. A proposal that included slot machines at Arlington Park, new casinos and some of the ethical safeguards Quinn has asked for was rejected by the House late last year but could come up again.
A group of organizations and labor leaders that includes Arlington Park is trying to revive it.
Lang said he's confident lawmakers will consider a plan before their May 31 budget deadline.
"There will be a gambling bill this spring," Lang said.
The push to expand gambling in Illinois is a nearly annual rite of spring at the Capitol, and last year was the first time lawmakers had sent a governor a plan for new casinos. Supporters are trying to use that political momentum, but the difficult task of cutting health care spending for the poor and the state's troubled retirement systems might overshadow other efforts.