Former state Rep. Chris Nybo says downtown Chicago should get a casino, but only if an existing gambling facility in Aurora, Elgin or Joliet packs it in and moves to the city.
That view is one of the very few issues separating Nybo and state Rep. Dennis Reboletti in the March 18 Republican primary to succeed Sen. Kirk Dillard in the state's 24th Senate District. The winner will advance to the November general election to face Democrat Suzanne Glowiak of Western Springs.
Reboletti favors a Chicago casino, in addition to expansion in Lake County and downstate Danville, as long as the proceeds are dedicated to a specific issue such as education, pension reform or a capital bill.
Both men squared off on the issue of casino gambling, and where and how it should be expanded, during a recent Daily Herald endorsement interview.
In all, Illinois' 10 casinos generated about $44.7 million in taxes in 2013.
A current gambling expansion bill making waves in Springfield calls for adding casinos in Rockford, Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County in addition to Chicago. It also would allow current and future casino licensees to apply for an online gambling license and add slot machines at the state's horse-racing tracks and O'Hare and Midway airports.
Nybo, 36, of Elmhurst, said he supports a new casino in downtown Chicago but only if a current "worn down" casino agrees to move and reinvest in the city and if proceeds are used to shore up the state's general revenue fund as a result of taking the income tax increase off the table.
Reboletti, 46, of Elmhurst, also supports a Chicago casino and further expansion in Lake County and Danville.
Nybo said the state needs to better "calibrate" casino locations throughout the state to maintain competition while also not "targeting" the less fortunate.
"Des Plaines (Rivers Casino) is doing fantastic, but all of a sudden Aurora, Joliet and Elgin are all not doing real well. I think there's a real risk that if we introduce new locations and facilities throughout the state, those existing facilities are going to continue to not get the investment we'd like to see them have, to not create the expected returns that we'd hoped or anticipated," Nybo said.
"I think it would be a better system to find a way to transfer positions or locations from Elgin, Aurora or Joliet (to Chicago) that may not be doing very well. Rather than just leave a business in the lurch, let's invest in that business and give that business an opportunity to transfer its assets to another location where those assets could do better, and where overall the state may be able to generate more gaming revenue."
Nybo said he fears the demographics of Elgin, Joliet and Aurora do not create the best chances for a casino to succeed.
"We're talking about rundown facilities that are targeting demographics that probably shouldn't be spending their money at casinos," Nybo said. "I worry about those types of casinos in our state that are getting run down."
Reboletti, however, said there are communities, like Danville, with high unemployment rates that are clamoring for a casino.
"If you gave Danville a boat, there is no other gaming for a 60- to 75-mile radius. So they would be the only gaming operation in town so you're not going to cannibalize anybody," Reboletti said. "Danville has almost 15 percent unemployment and they have been asking for a boat forever. They're so hopeful it would reinvigorate that community to provide jobs."
Reboletti would not support yanking a casino from a town to move it to Chicago, saying he has seen the positive effects Harrah's has had in Joliet.
"I don't see anybody giving up any positions. I worked in Joliet and I saw the amount of dollars that Joliet was able to take in and how many police and firefighters they were able to employ and how many miles of roadways they were able to pave and how they were able to reinvigorate a downtown that was dying."
As for the Chicago proposal, Reboletti said he would support it to allow the state to capture what he estimates is $1 billion in missed revenue, paid predominantly by out-of- state visitors.
"It would help Chicago be an attractive destination for conventions," he said. "You could also use the revenue from Chicago to let Chicago keep a good portion of that revenue to help their pension problems, the CTA, help their infrastructure issues instead of them coming down to the state to continually ask for additional dollars."
The 24th District includes all or parts of Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Hinsdale, Lisle, Lombard, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Villa Park, Westmont, Wheaton and Willowbrook.