Updated on 08/28/2012 4:33PM

Illinois governor vetoes racetrack slots bill


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed the state’s racetracks to operate slot machines as part of a major casino expansion, but lawmakers have vowed to attempt to override the veto later this year or craft new legislation addressing the governor’s concerns.

The veto strikes an immediate blow to Illinois racetracks, including Arlington Park, the Churchill Downs Inc.-owned property in the northwestern Chicago area that has lobbied aggressively for slot machines. Under the bill, Illinois’s “upstate” tracks – Arlington, Hawthorne Racecourse, and Maywood, a harness track – would have been able to operate as many as 1,200 slot machines, while the “downstate” track Fairmount Park in East St. Louis, the harness track Balmoral, and the simulcast facility Quad City Downs – would have been able to operate as many as 900 machines.

In a note accompanying his decision, Quinn said that he vetoed the bill because it did not contain a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests and because it did not include new regulations governing the gambling industry. There are currently 10 casinos in Illinois, and the operators of those properties opposed the bill because of a fear of the competition that the five new casinos and racetrack slots parlors would have presented.

“The most glaring deficiency . . . is the absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight,” Quinn wrote. “Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters.”

Courtney Norris, a spokesperson for Churchill Downs, said in an e-mail response to an inquiry Tuesday that Churchill “will continue to work aggressively with a variety of coalitions of interest to pass expanded gaming in Illinois. It is the right thing to do for the state, the industry, and the people of Illinois.”

Quinn had telegraphed that he had major concerns about the bill after the legislature passed the expansion in mid-May. Since then, legislators have been attempting to line up the votes that could make up an override, which would require a three-fifths majority in both houses, during a lame-duck session scheduled for after the November election.

However, Tim Carey, president of Hawthorne Racecourse, said that legislators also may take up a new bill that would include bans on campaign contributions during the lame-duck session in order to address Quinn’s concerns.

“I would anticipate that there will be a brand new bill,” Carey said. “That’s what we would support. We had tried pushing for that bill before the end of the May session, but we just ran out of time.”

Quinn had previously vetoed bills calling for slots at racetracks because of opposition to expanded gambling in general. This time, however, his veto note did not contain any language referencing opposition to slots at racetracks.

“Finally, there’s no longer an issue with slots at the racetracks,” Carey said. “I think that’s a good thing.”