Illinois Holds Second Gambling Hearing

In a quest to gather input from Illinois residents, state Rep. Bob Rita held a second hearing on expanded gambling. Rita is the House sponsor of SB 1739, which would allow casinos in Rockford, Danville, Lake County, the south suburbs and Chicago, plus slots at racetracks and Chicago airports.

Illinois state Rep. Bob Rita, the House sponsor of the expanded-gambling bill SB 1739, recently held the second in a series of hearings on the issue, in Tinley Park. The first was held in January in East St. Louis. Rita’s bill, which passed the Senate last spring, recently was re-referred to the rules committee. The measure would allow five new casinos in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and the south-Chicago suburbs, as well as one in Chicago, plus slot machines at racetracks and Chicago airports and additional gaming positions at existing casinos.

Rita said the major issues raised at the Tinley Park meeting were revenue sharing and the location of a new casino. He said the mayors from the south-Chicago suburbs are “not on the same page” about how revenue should be shared from a new casino there. “Some of the South Chicago cities that would like to move forward to obtain this, they all have different ideas. They’re sort of all over the board on their ideas for the revenue-sharing part,” he said.

Rita said the next hearing will be held in the Chicago area. The idea behind the meetings, he said, is “to hear what the locals are saying who aren’t always in Springfield, and to have a more transparent way of doing this, and trying to come to some common ground.”

Among the unknowns is not only if Governor Pat Quinn will sign off on an expanded gambling bill, even if it addresses his ethics concerns, but also if he’ll be re-elected in November. A new governor could be more open to expanded gambling.

Meanwhile, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton encouraged colleagues on the Senate Executive Committee to legalize online gambling to raise needed revenue. Cullerton has introduced legislation that would establish strong consumer protections and accountability for internet gaming. “People are already gambling, and we’re not making any of the money. There are other states that are just getting started that are bringing in some money. So that may play a role in it when we try to pass a budget,” he said.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, told the committee he agrees with Cullerton. “Regulation simply would mean corralling the current unregulated marketplace,” he said, noting legal online gambling could bring in $500 million annually to the state.

Along the Mississippi River in Metropolis, Harrah’s Metropolis Casino recently received approval from the Illinois Gaming board to move into the city’s convention center by the end of the year. “All in one level. Easy access. No stairwells. No elevators. Just walk right in and all the fun is at your fingertips,” Manager Mark Osterhaus said.

Local officials hope the change will stop declining revenues. When the riverboat opened as Player’s Casino in 1992, the city of Metropolis received $800,000 monthly in casino revenue. But Mayor Billy McDaniel said, “We received the lowest amount this past month that we have since the boat has been in operation. I do believe the move will be just like a new brand casino opening in the community.”

Casino workers who lose their jobs due to the transition will be offered other jobs within the company.

And in Niles, the Video Gaming Task Force recently drafted conditions for allowing video gambling in the village. Among other rules, they require a $500 license per machine; a minimum of 250 feet between establishments with video gambling; surveillance cameras connected to the Niles Police Station; a liquor license for 18 months prior to applying for a video gambling license.

Mayor Andrew Przybylo also made several other recommendations, including that video gambling machines go into a five-minute sleep mode after 20 or 30 minutes of continuous play by the same player to limit problem gamblers. He also suggested limiting signage to “take the schlock element out,” citing Classic Bowl in Morton Grove that has video gambling and signage that “looks like hell.”

Niles Finance Director Scot Neukirch said not considering restrictions recommended by the task force or Przybylo, 60 establishments would qualify to have video gambling under state law. If half of those generated video gambling revenue, the city could earn $337,000 a year.