Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday he was excited to implement the state’s gambling expansion law, but it’s unclear when that will happen.
The gambling law the governor signed last month will help fund a $45 billion, six-year infrastructure plan. The measure included adding a $1 per pack tax to cigarettes and was coupled with another bill doubling the state’s gas tax and increasing other driving fees to pay for both horizontal infrastructure such as roads and bridges and vertical infrastructure such as public universities.
After watching a race at Fairmount Park in Collinsville on Tuesday, Pritzker told the crowd the state is taking the allotted 40 horse-racing days and increasing it to 100 racing days.
“We’re bringing more horses, more races, more days and that means more jobs,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker couldn’t say exactly when other gambling expansion projects, such as more video gambling, new casinos and sports wagering would begin.
“We’ve got to kind of review everything before it gets installed, we’ve got to make sure the right number of [gambling] positions are being put in,” Pritzker said. “So I don’t want to put a timeline on it but it will be as soon as we possibly can.”
Other than legalizing sports betting and allowing for six additional casinos throughout the state, including one in Chicago, the law allows horse-racing tracks in Illinois to add gambling options such as slot machines and table games.
Fairmount Park President Brian Zander said that will be a lifesaver for his Collinsville track.
“Essentially it’s really going to save the place,” Zander said. “As you can see, we have a great crowd here today. That’s not the problem. The problem is that we’re competing with race tracks in nearby states — Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky — where they have slot machines.”
He said he anticipated investing $50 million in the operations at Fairmount, which has been around for decades.
Earlier this week, Pritzker named Charles Schmadeke as the chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board. He also named Anthony Garcia to the board. The five-member board is expected to meet Thursday.
Zander said once the state rules are established, his race track will be able to add the same gambling options casinos offer.
“Table games and slots are exactly the same as they are for all the casinos,” Zander said. “So any kind of table game that’s allowed in a casino, whether it’s roulette, or 21, blackjack … we can do the same thing.”
Concerns about gambling oversaturation remain, including with new reports that Indiana is flexing its gambling muscle to compete with a planned Chicago casino. Illinois existing casino landscape could also take a hit from added video gambling proliferation throughout the state outside of Chicago.
Pritzker said he wasn’t worried.
“This bill really brings back that industry to Illinois,” Pritzker said. “I think we can win against Indiana and other states that have been competing against us and winning up to now, we’re reversing that trend.”