Senate passes gaming bill; ITHA hopeful but realistic

Posted: Feb. 28, 2017

The Illinois Senate Feb. 28 passed legislation that would authorize slot machines at the state’s racetracks, but the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in a statement noted that “major hurdles” remain.

The Senate approved the gaming expansion bill by a vote of 31-26, one more than the 30 necessary for passage. The ITHA said it is encouraged by the vote, because if the bill becomes law it would allow Illinois to compete with states that receive a share of gaming revenue to support purses and breed development programs.

“The bill would establish agreed rates to support purses (from gaming positions hosted at the tracks) and guarantee live racing opportunities,” the ITHA said in a statement. “It also would eliminate ‘recapture,’ the woeful practice of tracks taking horsemen’s purse dollars to subsidize their own operations.”

The ITHA listed the following hurdles for the legislation:

  • If the Senate succeeds in passing the collection of bills to the House, it remains unclear how House members will respond. They could vote on the Senate’s package as is, modify it and send it back to the Senate, ignore the Senate bills and consider legislation of their choosing, or simply do nothing. House leaders have not participated in the Senate’s negotiations.
  • The legislation, known as Senate Bill 7, is tied to about a dozen other bills formulated as a “grand bargain” intended to break the Illinois government’s ongoing impasse over the lack of a budget and related matters. As currently conceived, each of the bills may become law only if all of them do. The other measures include a budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year and cover changes to workers’ compensation, public pensions and school funding, among other matters. To be sure, the grand bargain is sweeping, ambitious and not without controversy.
  • While Gov. Bruce Rauner used his budget address Feb. 15 to offer his perspective and certain conditions relative to the legislation coming together in the Senate, it remains unclear whether lawmakers ultimately will approve legislation that comports with his desired framework. Thus, the governor’s position on the gaming bill—and any other legislation linked to it—cannot be discerned.

“As we say in racing, this legislation is a long way from the finish line and, before getting there, must navigate heavy traffic,” the ITHA said. “But it has left the gate, and that is no small accomplishment for horsemen and other Illinois racing stakeholders.”