The slots at the track debate in Chicago continues to gain momentum, as legislators reconvene on Nov. 30 after a brief hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“When the senate returns to Springfield this week, we hope that our bill (SB3970) will get called on in committee,” said Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association (IHHA) executive director Tony Somone. “Two weeks ago it was discussed in committee but wasn’t called, probably because the Senate Republicans have gotten cold feet. They’re all saying it’s too big of a bill.”
Members of the IHHA and Chicago horsemen—both Standardbred and Thoroughbred—have been lobbying fervently since the spring legislative session, hoping that SB3970 will be approved and signed into law. SB3970 allows for slots at all Illinois racetracks, a casino in downtown Chicago and four to five new riverboats.
“Right now the problems that the bill is facing have nothing to do with horse racing,” said Somone. “The arguing is all about non-horse racing related things. Most of the legislators seem to be comfortable with the horse racing and racino part of the bill.
“It’s politics above horse racing right now,” Somone added. "Unfortunately, the horse racing community is just a very small pawn in the Illinois political picture. The Senate Republicans are saying they don’t want the city of Chicago to get a land-based casino that is controlled by Chicago politicians. That’s the major hang up right now, and we’ve known for a while that this could become an issue.”
SB3146—a stand-alone bill mandating slots at Illinois racetracks—is sitting dormant right now.
“It’s just sitting in the House,” Somone explained. “This is the bill we were pushing hard for in the Spring, and the one that the horse racing community initially put together. But since then Senator Cullerton said he wanted to expand on our idea and we gave our commitment to support him.”
Illinois is currently $13 to $14 billion over-budget and SB3970 would create $1 billion in new tax revenue.
If SB3970 is called from committee this week, it then goes to a vote, where Cullerton is expected to extend the session to Jan. 3, 4, 5 of 2011, Somone noted.
“There’s just so much work to be done in the legislature and not enough time,” he explained. “The positive is, if they vote on the bill this week, we only need a simple majority (30 of 59 senators) to support it, not the super majority (36 of 59) as previously thought.”
If SB3970 passes the Illinois Senate with support, it then moves to the Illinois House of Representatives for a vote, where Lou Lang, a democrat and head of gaming, is the sponsor.
“If the bill does not pass, then Illinois horsemen will only be racing for $10 million in 2011, with a much abbreviated schedule,” Somone said. “The IHHA will have to refocus and re-shift all of our programs in order to see how we can continue to function into 2012 and beyond.”
Meanwhile, there still has been no decision by a trio of judges, on the three percent riverboat money allotted to horsemen, that is sitting in an escrow account.—By Kimberly Rinker