05/05/2006 12:00AM

Illinois casino bill passes


A bill that will move several million dollars a year from the coffers of four Illinois riverboat casinos into the state's racing industry passed both the Illinois Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Left for dead when it was shot down in the House several weeks ago, the bill, which gives Illinois racetracks 3 percent of adjusted gross receipts from the four highest-earning riverboat casinos, won passage in the House last week, scored a decisive victory in the Senate late Thursday afternoon, and quickly was rushed back to the house with a new amendment attached. There the bill received 66 votes, just six more than the minimum required for passage.

The late Senate amendment sunsets the bill's provisions in two years, and the original bill took 3 percent of adjusted gross receipts from all nine casinos operating in the state, but the racing industry apparently will be happy to take what it can get, at least as a temporary boost. The four casinos will be required to make deposits into the state-managed Horse Racing Equity Fund about every 10 days, with 60 percent of the money going to purses, 40 percent to the tracks themselves. The money is split 57 percent for Thoroughbred racing and 43 percent for harness. Thoroughbred purses could receive in excess of $10 million annually, though estimates of the racing windfall are based on 2004 financial statements. Casino contributions would commence as soon as the Governor signed the bill into law.

The bill also voids existing legislation that would have given racing a percentage of profits from a 10th casino in Illinois, the license for which has yet to be issued.