Gambling Legislation in Illinois—Again

Once again, Illinois state Rep. Robert Rita (l.) has offered expanded gambling legislation in a measure allowing a casino in Chicago and another permitting five new casinos. Rita's bill also would allow slots at horseracing tracks, but the Casino Queen and the city of East St. Louis said they would suffer from slots at Fairmount Park.

Illinois state Rep. Robert Rita recently filed legislation identical to unsuccessful gambling bills he introduced last year. One measure would allow a Chicago casino, and another that would allow five casinos across the state, including one in Chicago, plus allow slots at all of the state’s horseracing tracks except for Fairmount Park, which would be added later if it can resolve a dispute with its competitor, the Casino Queen. Rita’s spokesman Ryan Keith said, “His approach is that all serious revenue ideas should be on the table.”

Lanny Brooks, executive director of the Illinois Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, has lobbied lawmakers for several years to bring slot machines to Fairmount Park and the state’s other horseracing venues. “I think that his filing it this early in the session is a good thing. That tells me that there might actually be a gaming bill this year,” Brooks said.

But conflict still exists between the Casino Queen and the city of East St. Louis and Fairmount Park. The casino said it will suffer financially if slots are allowed at the racetrack. Fairmount Park argues slots are required to shore up horseracing purses. Fairmount officials said horse owners are moving to tracks in other states that offer higher purses because they offer slots. East St. Louis is concerned because it receives 40 percent of its revenue comes from casino taxes. Another issue is how the local share of taxes from slots at Fairmount would be distributed.

Rita’s bills also face opposition from existing casinos that claim they already face increased competition from video gambling.