Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Members of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association were strongly encouraged Monday night to lobby Gov. Pat Quinn to sign the gambling expansion bill that would permit slot machines at racetracks.
“We’re dying. This (bill) saves us,” association president Dave McCaffrey told about 200 members at the Oak Lawn Hilton Hotel. “That’s why I’m trying to motivate people to call the governor.”
Association members signed letters to the governor during the meeting.
“We’ve got to as a group, somehow, some way, convince the governor to sign the bill,” McCaffrey said. “We need to do our part. Shame on us if we can’t get 500 letters (to him).”
Quinn has not cited specifics but has indicated that he’s against the scope of the legislation, which also would add five casinos, allow existing casinos to offer more gambling positions and permit slot machines at Chicago’s two airports.
In light of Quinn’s expected veto of at least some parts of the bill, some legislators have begun looking at possible changes to make it more acceptable to the governor. But changes could threaten the legislation, which was carefully crafted to offer something to a variety of interests.
Harness and thoroughbred owners and trainers have been leaving Illinois to race in other states that have slots machines at tracks and can offer larger purses to attract more and better horses, McCaffrey said.
Also, Indiana has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of direct racetrack jobs since adding slots at its tracks in 2005, McCaffrey said. Illinois would experience a similar boost to its racing industry if slots are approved, he said.
“If the governor signs this bill, we’re saved,” he said. “The only card we have left to play is to get the message to the governor.”