Our View: It may not be perfect, but legislation expanding gambling in Illinois should be signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Our state’s horse racing industry likely was encouraged when the curtain rang down late last week on the Illinois General Assembly.

Lawmakers approved a less-than-perfect bill that would expand gambling in Illinois, a bill which included a long-sought provision allowing horse tracks to offer slot machine gambling. It would help level the gambling playing field between casinos and horse tracks.

For too many years horse tracks have been at a tough competitive disadvantage with casinos, which are within an easy drive from any point in the state. Horse tracks need a better stake in the gambling game for the sake of state residents who depend on horse racing for a livelihood — including a significant number of people in Southern Illinois.

With a bill waiting only for the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn to become law, the horse people may have been planning a celebration. That was until Monday, when Quinn told The Associated Press, “I wouldn’t hold your breath on getting that bill signed.”

Quinn long has opposed slot machines at horse tracks, a practice so common in other horse racing states that such venues are now commonly called Racinos — borrowing respective syllables from “racing” and “casinos.” We’re hoping the governor can overlook his disapproval of the idea, because there is another aspect to the expanded gambling bill that argues for attention as much as a 900-pound gorilla in the corner of the State Capitol.

We are no fans of gambling — it’s wasteful and foolish — but the bankrupt state of Illinois long ago legalized gambling and now desperately needs more revenue. A state income tax hike didn’t close the gap between revenue and expenses and neither will recent budget cuts. Expanded gambling is easy money for the state, even if we have to hold our noses to recommend it.

How much easy money? Backers of the expanded gambling legislation expect an infusion of $300 million annually into state coffers from slot machines at horse tracks and new casinos in Chicago, two in suburban Chicago and single casinos for economically distressed Rockford and Danville.

It is too late to argue against more gambling in Illinois. Additional venues will be needed to keep state gambling money in Illinois. Border communities around the state, including Beloit, Wis., to the north and nearby Cape Girardeau are getting into the game. We can’t begrudge our Illinois counterparts to the north a chance to remain competitive. And why should Chicago continue to lose gambling money from worldwide tourists to the casinos in nearby Northwest Indiana?

All we’re seeking is a piece of the action for Southern Illinois, a small slice of the gambling pie that will help sustain the culturally rich and historically significant horse industry in the future. It may not be possible to craft a perfect piece of legislation expanding gambling in Illinois, so Quinn needs to carefully consider the bill in question.

Once he weighs the massive infusion of revenue against reservations about gambling expansion, Quinn may pragmatically see the wisdom of the existing legislation. It’s not perfect, but it should be signed into law.

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(2) comments

BigBob5909
BigBob5909

Quinn to the Illinois Horse Racing industry: "“I wouldn’t hold your breath on getting that bill signed.”
Illinois Horse Racing industry to Quinn: "I wouldn't hold your breath on getting our support in the next election".

antigambler
antigambler

It is NOT too late to argue against more gambling in Illinois. In states that have racinos, the death rate of horses has soared!! The New York Times reported that when purses are larger than the value of the horse, injured horses are often drugged to run. Many times, the claimed horse dies on the track. In a fall, jockeys can be severely injured or killed, while the track owners laugh all the way to the bank. How many deaths are too many?

Slot machines are the most addictive form of gambling. Going from ten slot houses to twenty-one slot houses in one fell swoop, at the same time that video gambling machines are rolling out to liquor-pouring establishments, and lottery sales online have just started, would drown us in gambling. The State has no obligation to keep any business alive, much less one that has seen its day come and go, and especially when the process would harm families.

There are about 9,000 addicted gamblers who have volunteered to be arrested if they are discovered in an Illinois casino. How many families must be ruined to satisfy the State's thirst for more money? The answer is blowing in the wind.

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