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Slots at tracks downplayed by Senate leader
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Illinois Sen. John Cullerton

 

Associated Press

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Published: 12/2/2009 2:18 PM | Updated: 12/2/2009 2:26 PM

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SPRINGFIELD - The president of the Illinois Senate cast doubts Wednesday on thousands of slot machines sprouting up at Arlington Park and other horse tracks.

"I don't think there's a need for that right now," Chicago Democrat John Cullerton told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

His comments came a day after the state's racetrack owners pushed the idea as an alternative to legalized video gambling in local restaurants and bars. A network of video gambling terminals is supposed to help pay off billions worth of construction projects lawmakers approved this year.

However, a litany of suburban communities have since said "no" to hosting legalized video gambling. The state initially estimated it would collect more than $500 million annually, though an analyst recently said that figure may need to be revisited if local governments continue to opt out.

With that in mind, track owners and advocates told a legislative economic panel this week that the horse tracks have long wanted to add slot machines and if villages and cities don't want video gambling the tracks will take the added business.

Cullerton's comments suggest there is not a sense of urgency on the state's part. He said the billions worth of construction such gambling is supposed to help finance are not jeopardized as the liquor tax increases and higher vehicle fees will bring in more than enough to cover the initial payments.

Cullerton said he backed a higher gasoline tax to help pay for road construction but Republicans balked. Negotiations led to legalized and taxed video gambling becoming an alternative.

There's no shortage of video gambling machines in taverns across the state already used for more than "entertainment," Cullerton said. "The thought was if this is going on, the state should get some of the money," he said.