Ill. horse racing industry pushes slot machines, casinos

May 22, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"We got to make some changes in Illinois that make our future better," Quinn said.

Trying to explain the state's predicament in as simple terms as possible, the governor chose a Percy Julian Junior High School class in Oak Park to champion pension and Medicaid reform:

"We have some cost factors in our state right now that are very expensive and they kind of crowd out, or they squeeze out the kind of money we'd like to have in Illinois for education," Quinn said.

The governor wants the Medicaid shortfall -- projected to be as much as $2.7 billion -- made up with a combination of new taxes on cigarettes and over a billion dollars in cuts in healthcare programs for the state neediest citizens.

"Sometimes you got to do hard things in order to make things better," Quinn said.

Meanwhile, as the Illinois fiscal crisis worsens, the state's horse racing industry is pleading anew that the governor sign a bill already passed by the General Assembly that would license five new casinos -- including one in Chicago -- and permit slot machines at racetracks.

"In upfront licensing fees, the whole entire gambling package would generate about $400 million," said Andrew Mack, Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association.

But the governor has issued a new warning to the General Assembly that he has not changed his opposition to slots at racetracks. And Quinn says gaming expansion should not become a distraction.

"It will only harm our focus of keeping our eye on the target of pension reform and Medicaid restructuring," the governor said.

Mack concedes while gaming expansion revenues would not be a cure-all for Illinois' fiscal headache, hundreds of millions of new dollars immediately would not hurt.

"It's a large pot of money that's sitting out there, right now it's untapped and it's waiting to be taken," said Mack.

Despite the governor's threat to veto a gaming bill with racetrack slots, its sponsors in both chambers reportedly are poised to run such a measure again next week. There already are enough votes to pass gaming expansion. The question has always been, are there enough votes to override a Quinn veto.

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