New gambling plan: Give Arlington half the slots
A new plan to give Arlington International Racecourse slot machines would allow for half as many one-armed bandits as previous proposals, as well as provide for five new casinos in Lake County, Chicago and elsewhere.
In past proposals that have made it as far as Gov. Pat Quinn's desk, the racetrack would have been allowed to have 1,200 machines.
The new plan from state Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat, allows for 600. Casino expansion legislation is often criticized as too large, and a smaller deal could create room for compromise.
But Arlington spokesman Thom Serafin said the legislation was "perplexing" in reducing the number of slot machines lawmakers have approved in the past.
"We would hope the wisdom they have expressed in the past would be the wisdom they'd express in the future," Serafin said.
Rita says he will file two plans. One would create just the Chicago casino. The other would do that, plus allow the slot machines at Arlington and create other casinos.
The two paths forward give lawmakers options, as well as create some room to negotiate.
"I look forward to having a robust discussion about these ideas and working with my colleagues on a solution now," Rita said.
Rita's plans join a long line of gambling expansion proposals through the years that have failed more often than not.
The push for expansion stalled in 2013 after lawmakers were able to send packages to Quinn in the two previous years. As the governor and lawmakers deal with tough re-election campaigns this year, a controversial plan to expand gambling could face tall political hurdles.
Still, lawmakers could find a reason to move forward if new casinos offered the financially troubled state some budget relief.
Even with a smaller number of proposed slots at racetracks, the Illinois casino industry will not like the idea of increased competition.
"There may be something in there that we like," said Illinois Casino Gaming Association Executive Director Tom Swoik. "I doubt it, but there may be."
The proposal would also allow the state to own the casino in Chicago, which could be far larger than the casinos in Des Plaines, Elgin and Aurora.
Those casinos are seeing their revenues either flatline or drop.
The Daily Herald reported in January that the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines was the only casino to maintain revenues from 2012 into 2013. The Grand Victoria in Elgin and Hollywood Casino in Aurora saw the amount of money gamblers spent plummet.
"There are so many little intricacies, when you touch one thing it affects another," Swoik said.