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Senate rejects plan to expand casinos, add slots at racetracks
By Nicole Milstead | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/22/200 5:04 PM

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SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Senate rejected gambling expansion Friday that would have put casinos in Park City, Rockford and Chicago.

The expansion would have also allowed slot machines at Illinois racetracks and let the riverboats move inland and become land-based casinos.

The vote was 28-28. Approval requires 30 votes in the 59-member Senate. Sponsor Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, used a procedural move to wipe out the roll call and preserve the plan for a possible second vote.

Supporters said the fiscal realities of the state pushed gambling to the forefront.

"In a year like this when we need money and no one wants to vote for a tax increase, everybody says, 'what about gaming?" said Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat. "We need to consider this as an alternative."

Link made a similar economic appeal.

"We are talking about a business," said Link "We are talking about helping the people of Illinois. What we need to do now is not put a heavier tax burden on the citizens of Illinois."

Link said the added gambling would generate nearly $100 million in the first year for the state and $500 million annually once everything is up and running.

Others said Illinois needs to keep up with the gambling industry, especially potential casino growth in Wisconsin.

"This is an opportunity for Illinois to defend itself and create a tourism spot of Illinois especially when it come to Chicago," said state Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican. "We need jobs in Illinois. It's not just about the jobs it is about he domino effect that comes with it. The state of Illinois is desperately looking for revenue."

Critics said it was simply too much gambling to stomach the day after lawmakers sent a video gambling at bars plan to the governor to help finance road construction.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said this would have made Illinois a bigger gambling state than Nevada or New Jersey.

Chicago Democratic state Sen. James Meeks joined that opposition.

"It is too much! It is time to stop. We are allowing our state to go down the tube," said Meeks. "Video poker. Gaming. Enough is enough!"