05/31/2006 11:00PM

Illinois casinos sue over revenue share


Four Chicago-area riverboat casinos have filed a joint lawsuit seeking to overturn a recently passed law that would funnel a percentage of revenue, some $36 million annually, from the casinos into the horse racing industry.

The casinos contend the new law is unconstitutional on several grounds, especially because it takes from one group of businesses and gives to a group of competitors. Racing interests say the legislation provides just compensation for an erosion of local fan support attributable to the introduction of dockside gambling in 1999.

The bill, signed into law last Friday by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, mandates that the state's four highest-grossing casinos deposit 3 percent of their adjusted gross receipts into a state-administered racing equity fund every three weeks. Payments would be made to breeders, racetracks, and purse funds in both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred industries. The casinos' suit stipulates that the funds will now be paid into an escrow account.

Before the lawsuit, Arlington's purses were weeks from receiving a significant boost, but now the fate of the legislation, which could expire in two years, is uncertain. The lawsuit, assigned to judge Herman Haase at the River Valley Justice Center, has as an initial hearing date of Sept. 18, but a Will County court clerk said legal motions could be initiated well before then.