Bill to expand gambling may be downsized

CHICAGO – Illinois lawmakers are looking at ways to shrink a recently approved gambling expansion bill to avoid a veto from Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he’d “never support” it because it was too big.

The measure sent to the Democratic governor last month would add five casinos in central and northern Illinois – including one in Chicago – and expand existing ones. It also would add slot machines at existing casinos and allow horseracing tracks to have them for the first time.

Quinn has said he was open to a casino in Chicago but opposed the four others, calling them “way too many.”

Senate President John Cullerton has put a hold on the measure as he and other Democrats consider ways to scale it back. That hold stops the clock on the legislation and buys legislators time before an upcoming special session.

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, who sponsored the legislation, said Quinn “has indicated very strongly that he wants to see a reduction.”

“He doesn’t want to see it as big,” Link said. “So his message was loud and clear to us, and we have to see how we can do this to appease what his concerns are.

“We don’t want a veto,” he said.

Not all Democrats are happy about the maneuvering. Rep. Lou Lang, the bill’s House sponsor, said tinkering with parts of it could upset the delicate balance that made it happen.

“I’ve been working on this bill for 20 years, and I finally found the right combination,” Lang said.

“If slots at tracks come off, you can’t pass the bill. If the money for downstate agriculture comes off, you can’t pass the bill. If you take out casinos for Danville and Rockford, it might damage the ability to pass the bill.”

Under the bill, seven horse tracks could become “racinos,” with slot machines to draw gamblers who have abandoned racing for other forms of gambling.

Slot machines and expanded horseracing would even come to the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Link said it’s too early to say what might get cut from the bill.

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