SPRINGFIELD - Some lawmakers are looking to add slot machines to Arlington Park and other horse racing tracks across Illinois in hopes of shoring up financing for a fledgling $31 billion statewide construction plan.
The massive public works project was supposed to be partially funded by taxes on legalized video gambling, but dozens of suburban communities have voted not to allow the gambling machines in their towns.
Adding slots to the horse racing tracks, some lawmakers say, would be the logical way to plug that revenue shortfall. Other construction funding would come from liquor taxes and vehicle fees.
State Rep. William Burns, a Chicago Democrat pushing slots, said aside from supplementing the construction fund, adding slots would help bolster business at tracks, which provide thousands of jobs throughout the state.
State Rep. Suzie Bassi, a Palatine Republican, signed on as a co-sponsor of Burns' proposal because the slot machines would be installed in areas already under the microscope of the state's gambling regulators. Bassi said that made it much easier to support than video gambling at bars, which she called the "crack cocaine of gambling."
"It is a much more controlled structure, and it provides the horse racing industry with the wherewithal to probably keep going," said Bassi, whose suburban district is home to Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, which wants slot machines. "Since it's a $3 billion piece of the state's economy, that to me is pretty important."
Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said approving slots for racetracks isn't an immediate priority, but there is some interest brewing among members given the state's $13 billion budget hole and underfunded capital construction program.
"I don't know I would say there's serious interest on the part of leadership," Brown said.
Burns said the idea of installing slots at racetracks has been floated for years, to no avail. He's hoping he'll get more traction as the session continues.
"It's always hard to read the tea leaves this early in the process," Burns said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.