Horse track slots advances, but still in limbo

Brian Felt

A measure allowing slot machines at horse racing facilities sped out of a House committee this morning and is expected to receive a full House vote sometime today.

But major roadblocks in the Senate could make the idea moot as session wraps up.

Senate Bill 3146, sponsored by Rep. Will Burns, D-Chicago, would generate more than $100 million from licensing fees and up to $300 million in annual revenue by allowing electronic gambling at the state's horse racing tracks - namely in Chicago's suburbs and the St. Louis area.

That money would go to fill an estimated $177 million shortfall in the states construction bill, which is lagging because communities around the state continue to opt out of video poker in bars and restaurants. Any excess money from the slot machines would go towards education, Burns said.

Burns said the bill has ample support in the House but could be stopped in the Senate.

"The (horse racing) industry has (counted votes) and there is broad bipartisan support for the bill; the question we have is what do we do with the other chamber," Burns said. "There are roadblocks in the Senate."

The bill would retain roughly 35,000 horse racing jobs across the state and create thousands more through construction jobs.

But the bill has a strong opposition from the state's casino industry, which says the measure would create new "land-based" casinos that put riverboat casinos at a disadvantage.

"(Casinos) just can't stand that type of competition," said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. "We believe that with this large expansion ... there will be significant damage to the casino industry.”

State Capitol Bureau