Illinois Gambling Proponents Optimistic

An expanded gambling bill, similar to one that died in committee last year, has a good chance of moving forward in the Illinois legislature. State Rep. Bob Rita's (l.) measure calls for five new casinos, including one in Chicago, plus slots at the state's horseracing tracks and O'Hare and Midway airports.

Supporters of expanded gambling in Illinois believe state Rep. Bob Rita’s expanded gambling bill, nearly identical to one that died in a legislative committee last year, has a good chance of passing this year. Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Lou Lang, sponsor of previous gambling legislation, said, “I believe there’s an opportunity to pass a bill that the governor will sign. Having said that, it’s a timing issue. There’s an election year, and gaming is a difficult issue at best.” Quinn previously vetoed two gaming bills passed by the legislature.

The bill calls for new casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Chicago’s south suburbs and Lake County. It also would add slot machines at the state’s horseracing tracks and O’Hare and Midway international airports. And it would allow current and future casino licensees to apply for an online gambling license. Most of the revenue from would go toward school funding.

State Senator Terry Link added, “There’s no doubt we need some revenue,” as legislators consider extending the state’s income tax increase, scheduled to roll back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent next January. Proponents of expanded gambling said if the proposed legislation would pass, the state would gain an estimated $400 million to $1 billion annually in revenue.

Rita plans to hold a series of public hearings about expanded gambling around the state. The first was held in East St. Louis where city and Casino Queen officials said they were concerned that allowing slots at nearby Fairmount Park horse track would impact local tax revenue the city depends on from the casino. “In the end, they agreed to come together and talk about what would be best for everyone. I considered that a good outcome because at least now the two sides are talking,” Rita said.

The second public hearing is scheduled this week in Tinley Park. Rita said, “One area that I’m hoping to get some discussion on is whether the south suburbs would be better off with one casino site or a geographic area representing six townships. He’s also interested in how people feel about revenue sharing. The Senate version of the bill passed last year did not contain specific recommendations on how host communities should share revenue with nearby municipalities or school districts. Rita said casino income cold be used to create a capital development fund for local towns that are so poor they lack the money for state matching grants for road and bridge projects. Another topic he’ll pursue is revenue sharing with Cook County, which Rita said he’s against if Chicago were exempt. “If people have good ideas that ought to be included in the bill, I’m willing to do that.”

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor, who’s running for re-election, only will support an expanded gambling bill if it includes ethical oversight. “He will never compromise when it comes to keeping corruption out of the gaming industry,” Anderson said. But Link noted the legislation includes a substantial oversight budget. Also, Link said the bill will be much more streamlined than last year’s complex, 500-page measure.

“It can get so top-heavy that nobody wants to be a supporter. Everyone thinks we’re going to be making billions of dollars off of this. The whole point of this is to try to get money for schools and possibly a capital development bill,” he said.

Also in Illinois, the Village Board of Homewood voted 4-0 in favor of extending the contracts of two firms that are helping the town acquire a casino. The law firm of Barnes & Thornburg LLP will receive $27,000 to guide Homewood through the process of opening a legal casino in Illinois. The board also approved $10,000 to lobbyist William F. Mahar who is representing Homewood’s casino interests at the legislature.

Village President Rich Hofeld said the two contracts will be renewed each year until expanded gambling legislation is passed and signed into law.