12/11/2007 1:00AM

New slots proposal in Illinois

EmailThree Illinois state legislators have proposed a major expansion of legalized gambling there that would bring slot machines to the state's racetracks.

Similar proposals have circulated in the legislature before, but this latest plan, announced Monday, is thought to have a more serious chance of becoming law because it has the backing of Rep. Michael Madigan, the powerful speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Madigan had previously resisted gambling expansion plans such as one that passed the Illinois Senate earlier this year.

Pressure has steadily increased on state lawmakers to provide money for capital improvement projects, public education, and Chicago's mass-transit system. The authors of the proposal - Madigan, Rep. Lou Lang, and Rep. Bob Molaro, all Democrats - call their proposal a catch-all solution to those issues. The plan was sent as a memorandum to members of the Illinois General Assembly, which is scheduled to reconvene next week.

The proposal calls for as many as 3,600 slot machines at Illinois racetracks- both harness and Thoroughbred - as well as a new casino in Chicago that could house as many as 4,000 gaming positions. Two more casino licenses would be issued, and the existing nine casinos would be allowed to expand.

The legislative landscape could, however, significantly alter the details. The proposal has yet to be crafted into a bill, and any legislation drafted in the house of representatives still would have to meet the approval of the state senate, whose majority leader, Democrat Emil Jones, is a nexus of power in his own right.