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Illinois tracks eye casino cut

Jan 6, 2009 4:58 PM
Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

You don’t suppose Illinois racetracks would want to be connected with the "pay to play" controversy that may yet force Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office.

The thinking among some casino industry strategists there was that the tracks, as one source put it, "would not want tainted money."

Yeah, right. Guess again!

Legislation that forces four Chicago-area casinos to cough up tax money for the support of troubled tracks was one of the bills signed by the governor when he returned to work following his arrest on corruption charges.

Casino companies had previously challenged the tax plan in court, charging that it was, uh, well, it was just wrong, besides probably being unconstitutional, to tax only four of the state’s existing casinos to subsidize another industry, the tracks. Casinos won at the lower level but an appeals court reversed that decision.

News reports of wiretap transcripts that became front page news following Blagojevich’s arrest suggest the bill was the subject of conversation (heard on wire taps) involving the governor. Blagojevich appeared to want to put some time between his signing of the bill and whatever substantive thank you he expected from the tracks.

Harrah’s Senior VP Jan Jones says tracks have a history of significant influence in Illinois politics. Lobbyists for the tracks put a lot of effort into getting slot machines at the tracks, but if that was not going to happen – and it has not – then they are happy to settle for the subsidy from casinos.

The casinos apparently remain intent on pushing on with their opposition to the 3 percent levy intended to support tracks whose products have trouble competing with the presence of casinos.