House committee passes gambling expansion bill

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Illinois' six horse-race tracks could have slot machines, while riverboat casinos would pay lower taxes, be allowed to move onto land and be permitted to set up more gaming positions under a proposal that cleared a House committee Thursday.

Illinois' nine existing casinos opposed House Bill 3107, which was approved in the House Executive Committee on a 6-5 vote, as they did when a similar gambling expansion bill was introduced during the previous General Assembly. The casinos fear a glut of new gambling options will hurt their businesses, which have endured 31 percent losses in the past three years, according to the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

HB3107 differs from the proposal the same sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, put forth at the end of the 96th General Assembly. That measure added additional casinos, including a land-based one in Chicago.

Twenty-five percent of the money raised would be put into the state's capital construction fund, while 75 percent would be used to pay off back-due state bills. Lang said there was no estimate yet on how much the measure would generate for the state.

Lang said Illinois' horse-racing industry has been hit by competition from other states that already have slot machines at race tracks.

"The horse-racing industry is dying on the vine. We can save those jobs in Illinois if we can pass this bill," Lang said.

But the race tracks were neutral on the bill because of a provision that would require 2,000 video poker machines to be active before the Illinois Gaming Board could license slot machines at the tracks, Lang said. Video poker is a major component of the state's capital construction plan, but the gaming board has yet to authorize any video poker machines.

Trying to reduce opposition from the casinos, Lang's bill includes a provision allowing additional gaming positions at the state's riverboat casinos.

But Jay Keller, a lobbyist with Penn National Gaming, which owns casinos in Joliet and Alton, said the company's casinos wouldn't buy the additional positions, saying that it wouldn't make financial sense with all of the other new gambling options the bill would provide.

 "If Mr. Keller doesn't want to use them, someone else might," Lang responded.

 Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.

   Gambling expansion bill

    House Bill 3107 would:

    -- Allow the Para-A-Dice casino in East Peoria to move up to 10 miles away from its current location, pending the approval of East Peoria and the Illinois Gaming Board.

    -- Reduce the state's wagering tax from 50 percent gradually until July 1, 2013, when it would fall to 40 percent. Casinos would get a tax break for table-game revenues, which Lang hopes will add card-dealing jobs.

    -- Allow casinos to buy an additional 800 gaming positions on July 1 and allow up to 2,000 gaming positions at each casino.

   --Allow the Arlington, Maywood and Hawthorne race tracks to buy up to 1,200 gaming positions apiece. Racetracks in Balmoral, Fairmount and Quad Cities could buy up to 900 gaming positions. Each position would cost $12,500 with the exception of positions in Cook County, which would cost $25,000 apiece.