Quinn Kills Gambling Bill, Maybe Racetracks Too

By refusing to allow slot machines in racetracks, Gov. Pat Quinn killed the gambling expansion bill, and he may have killed a few Illinois racetracks, too.

“We’re talking about casinos at racetracks,” Quinn said at a press conference Monday morning in the James R. Thompson Center. “Don’t kid yourself. That would be 14 new casinos in Illinois if you allow casinos at racetracks.”

Quinn also said that “horse racing and related businesses are receiving generous support from the state,” pointing out they were given $141 million in August.

Cutting racetracks into the casino business was one of the motivations behind this bill, and its sponsors won’t vote for a version that leaves out horse racing.

“I have told [the governor] some of my non-starters,” Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, told Ward Room in August. “Horse racing is a non-starter.”

Because it helps rural breeders, the horse racing provision induced Downstate legislators to vote for a bill with a Chicago casino. And Chicago legislators voted to help horse racing because they were getting a casino. It was the keystone of the entire bill.

“I wouldn’t bet that the votes are there for gaming expansion w/o including the racetracks,” former state Rep. John Fritchey tweeted after Quinn’s press conference.

Why do racetracks need slots? Racetracks were once the only legal gambling establishments in Illinois. The state has been eroding their monopoly since the 1970s, when it instituted a lottery. Casinos lured away even more customers. It’s only fair that they be allowed to participate in the 21st Century gambling environment. Especially if the state adds five more casinos, creating even more competition.

Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney has been hanging on by a thread, waiting for the salvation of a slot machine bill.

Last week, President Tim Carey pleaded his case before the City Club and personally lobbied Quinn. In 2002, Sportsman’s Park, the racetrack next door, went out of business. The track’s owners, the Bidwill family, sold the property for $18 million to the Town of Cicero, which demolished the grandstand and plans to build a retail/entertainment complex there.

I wonder if Carey will decide to do the same. Without slot machines, the Chicago gambling market can’t support two racetracks, and Arlington Park is the obvious survivor.

Every December, Hawthorne runs a Jim Edgar Futurity for promising a 2-year-old. It’s named after the former governor, who has bred and raced horses since leaving office. It’s safe to say the track won’t be naming a race after Pat Quinn.

Update: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responds to Quinn's veto.

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