04/05/2007 11:00PM

Illinois court rules against tracks

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A judge in suburban Chicago has ruled in favor of four Illinois riverboat casinos in a lawsuit seeking to overturn a bill that would have directed a percentage of casino revenue to the state's racetracks.

The state of Illinois could choose to appeal the ruling, made by a judge in Will County last week, to the Illinois Supreme Court. But for now, the decision, which was announced Thursday, is another defeat for Illinois racing.

The tracks initially lauded House Bill 1918, which was signed into law by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last May. The bill mandated that 3 percent of adjusted gross receipts from the state's four highest-grossing casinos be channeled into horse racing, to be split among Thoroughbred and harness track operators and horsemen. The four affected casinos all are located in northern Illinois, while five other casinos were exempted in the legislation.

Within two weeks, casino interests had filed suit against the bill, charging that it was unconstitutional - a charge with which the court eventually agreed.

The bill was to have expired two years after taking effect. Legislators passed it as compensation to tracks for an anticipated revenue stream that never materialized after Illinois casino gaming expanded in 1999. Tracks were to have received a percentage of revenue from a 10th riverboat casino, expected to open in Rosemont, Ill., near O'Hare airport. But the issuance of that license was stalled by legal problems, and plans for the 10th casino remain in a deep freeze.

Illinois racetracks say they've been badly hurt by the expansion of casino gaming in the state, and that they lack the means to compete with racetracks in states supported by racinos. Legislation to bring gaming to Illinois tracks has passed out of committee in the ongoing state legislative session, but as in previous years, it remains entangled in all manner of political wrangling and faces an uncertain future.