05/31/2013 10:55PM

Illinois legislature votes to renew account-wagering licenses


On the final day of its spring session the Illinois legislature finally approved a bill to renew the licenses of account-wagering companies, but gambling-expansion legislation that would authorize Illinois racetracks to operate slot-machine parlors died in the House of Representatives.

The account-wagering legislation also governs the distribution of revenue collected from a casino in Des Plaines, with horseracing interests cut in for only a fraction of the money they were originally slated to receive.

The gambling bill would have added five new casinos to the existing 10 in the state, including a Chicago facility long coveted by mayor Rahm Emanuel, while turning Illinois tracks into racinos. It appeared to have momentum early this spring, but met its annual fate in a legislature that also failed to tackle the most important item on its spring agenda, reform of state-funded pensions. Governor Pat Quinn told legislators he would not consider gambling expansion until pension reform was addressed, and that looming issue was also left outstanding as the session came to a close.

The gambling bill, SB1739, passed the Senate, but its sponsor in the House of Representatives, Bob Rita, announced late Friday he would not call the bill for a vote.

Meanwhile, Illinois account-wagering holders are on the verge of being able to bet online for the first time since early January, when the legislature failed to renew the licenses of authorized account-wagering companies in the state. The account-wagering bill, SB1884, passed the House last week and cleared the Senate late Friday afternoon, though it will not become law without a signature from Quinn, who has 60 days to sign or veto the legislation. Funding from the Illinois Racing Board depends in great part on taxes collected from account wagering, and the IRB has said it would be forced to curtail its operations in the continued absence of those funds.

SB 1739 also authorizes the transfer of $23 million from the State Gaming Fund to the Horse Racing Equity Fund. That money, which will be split between Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, and further between purse accounts and track operators, has been collected from the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, near O’Hare Airport, which began operating in July 2011. The legislature, in permitting Illinois casinos to change from cruising riverboats to land-based establishments, originally passed a law to give 15 percent of adjusted gross receipts from the state’s 10th casino licensee – which would become Rivers – to racing. But the $115 million appropriated according to that law was never distributed, and – faced with the possibility of receiving none of the money – racing interests agreed to accept only about 20-percent of the money.

SB 1739 expires on Jan. 1, 2014, and the legislature must revisit the entire situation again this winter.