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Ill. gambling bill still up in the air while horse racing industry gets influx of cash

(Robert Altman)
Horses race to the finish line at Fairmount Park Racetrack. The Jumbotron shows the action, and its age in the background. About $14 million will go to the racetrack in a recent account release. Some of the money will be used for upgrades and repairs.

A decision by lawmakers to approve a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois has been followed by two months of delay as Gov. Pat Quinn studies the measure and decides where he stands.

Quinn has met with a revolving door of supporters and opponents, but he's given no details on what changes he'd like to see. Skeptical lawmakers continue to use a legislative maneuver to hang onto the bill until Quinn explains what he wants.

That keeps him from using his veto to block or rewrite the bill that would add five new casinos, expand gambling at the 10 existing casinos and put slot machines at the race tracks. Quinn has turned up his nose before at the notion of significantly expanding gambling.

Quinn's continued contemplation follows yesterday's news from The (Bloomington) Pantagraph that $141 million that's been collecting in an escrow account for years was released this week to race tracks and horse owners.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports on the portion of that money that will go to Fairmount Park Racetrack in the metro-east:

The share of the escrow money for the metro-east's horse-racing track, Fairmount Park, has been estimated at $14 million, of which 60 percent would go toward daily money prizes for winning horse owners and 40 percent toward improvements and upgrades at the track.

Fairmount Park was also featured in a previous story on the wait for action on the gambling bill from Maria Altman in June.

The cash is at the heart of a legal case that's gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It involved a 2006 law that diverted 3 percent of the earnings of the state's four biggest casinos to subsidize the horse tracks.

Tony Somone is executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, and he says the financial boost is going to stimulate the state's horse racing community.

And Illinois Racing Board Executive Director Marc Laino says purses could start going up quickly.

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