Illinois school and road construction projects authorized by the state's new capital construction law are at risk of stalling because multiple local governments are rejecting a primary source of funding: video gaming. Critically, the City of Chicago has yet to approve video gaming.
Without Chicago, revenue to the state to pay for construction bonds would drop between $95 million and $177 million, hobbling thousands of projects.
Even were Chicago to decide in favor, the extensive new state regulatory machinery to license and police 45,000 to 60,000 video-gaming machines would be unable to kick-start the program any time soon.
A credible alternative already exists: permitting existing horse racing tracks to operate gaming machines at their locations, within the current authorized number of such machines.
Slots at tracks would generate $100 million to $300 million each year for the state's construction fund. And, just as critically, it would protect agribusiness and modernize horse racing in Illinois.
Increasingly, the Illinois horse racing industry, and the 35,000 agribusiness jobs that support it, have been financially challenged by the larger gaming industry and obsolete state law which, unlike other states, forbids slots at tracks. The largest purse prizes are found increasingly in states that allow racing to compete with casinos -- undermining Illinois horse racing.
Bipartisan efforts are under way to develop ''slots-at-tracks'' legislation which, if properly crafted, can allow Illinois racing to regain its position at the top of the nation's racing industry and provide a secure construction revenue stream.
However, any such bill must properly address the time-honored goal of supporting the horsemen and Illinois agribusiness. A fair ''slots-at-tracks'' bill must equally share the net benefits and not simply transform Illinois tracks into casinos at the expense of 35,000 agribusiness jobs as it aims to salvage state construction jobs.