Reduced Gaming Plan Passes House Panel

November 08, 2011

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

An Illinois House committee has approved a new, smaller gambling plan that backers hope can survive a threatened veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.

It passed 8-2. Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the measure could be changed even more before a vote by the full House. Lawmakers approved a major gambling expansion during the spring legislative session. But they never bothered sending the bill to Quinn out of fear that he would veto it.

The Democratic governor has a number of concerns, particularly the idea of allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks. After the governor panned it, Lang pushed for the smaller proposal. The new proposal would still allow slots at racetracks but not at Chicago airports. It also lowers the amount of growth allowed for existing casinos.

"I'm sure even the governor would say we have made a good faith effort to match up some of the governor would agree good faith effort to match up some of our ideas with some of his ideas," Lang said.

However, despite the changes Lang said he still expects the governor will oppose it.

The lure of additional gambling in Illinois has some communities on opposite sides of the issue.

When riverboat gambling was legalized more than 20 years ago, it was sold as a way to boost tourism and the sagging economies in certain towns. Now communities like Rockford, Danville, even Chicago want in on the action. The idea of a quaint trip gambling down the river is long gone. It is all about money and jobs.

"We fit in that original description of an economically depressed community," Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said. "I'm not happy to say that but what i am happy to do is to stand here and fight for an opportunity to bring jobs to our community."

The city is one of five that would be allowed to add gambling under a package being considered at the capitol. An earlier effort met resistance from Gov. Quinn and mayors whose towns already have casinos. Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said his town has used proceeds from gaming on projects.

"We built a police station, we built a recreation center, and those days will be rapidly disappearing for us," Kaptain said.

Kaptain also raised concerns about slot machines at horse tracks, which he says would take money from existing casinos.

Story source: AP