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SPRINGFIELD -- The latest attempt to boost the number of casinos in Illinois began winding its way through the Statehouse corridors Tuesday as part of a last-minute attempt to raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Similar plans have fallen short in the past. And it probably didn't help when Gov. Pat Quinn last week said he opposes key parts of the measure.

Supporters, however, are offering a new wrinkle this time around: Proceeds from five new casinos and slot machines at horse racing tracks would be diverted to pay down the state's massive backlog of unpaid bills.

"All around it's a good deal for the people of the state of Illinois," said state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who is sponsoring the measure.

In addition to a massive casino in Chicago, the proposal would allow new casinos in Lake County, Danville, southern Cook County and Rockford. It would allow the state's current casinos to expand.

The plan would legalize slot machines at race tracks, including the shuttered Quad-City Downs, and allow horse racing and slot machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

And it would allow gaming within the secure areas of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports.

In addition to generating $1.5 billion over four years to pay down the state's old bills, Lang said the plan will provide a boost to the state's ailing horse racing industry and create jobs when casinos are built and expanded.

"The ripple effect through the state will be dramatic," Lang said.

Quinn, however, said last week he is against most elements of the proposal, except for the Chicago casino.

"We're not going to become the Las Vegas of the Midwest," Quinn told reporters during an event in Chicago.

But Lang said he doesn't believe he can muster enough votes before the scheduled adjournment date of May 31 unless there are some benefits to expansion to lawmakers outside of Chicago.

"It is my considered opinion that we cannot pass a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that ignores downstate interests," Lang said.

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, acknowledged the measure faces an uphill battle in the final week of the spring session.

"Gambling bills are always hard to get agreement on. They tend to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger and then collapse under their own weight," Mautino said.

The sorry condition of the state's finances could lure some "yes" votes. Lawmakers are working to put the final touches on an austere spending plan for the next fiscal year, but have made no significant inroads into paying down old bills owed to vendors and schools.

Mautino said even if there is an agreement on expanding gambling, the proposal could fall apart if there are disagreements over how to spend the revenue.

Some lawmakers want to use new revenues to pay down old bills, while others want the additional money to lessen cuts to human service programs and schools, he said.

"Any of the sin taxes are hard to do. We've got a few days left. We'll see what happens," Mautino said.

The legislation is House Bill 744.


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