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updated: 5/20/2014 9:59 AM

Illinois gambling expansion could be stalled again

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  • The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin could get new competition if lawmakers approve expanding gambling.

      The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin could get new competition if lawmakers approve expanding gambling.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin could get new competition if lawmakers approve expanding gambling.

      The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin could get new competition if lawmakers approve expanding gambling.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
By Zachary White
zwhite@dailyherald.com

SPRINGFIELD -- The latest gambling proposal that balances a Lake County casino and slot machines at racetracks against a large Chicago casino is finding few fans in the legislature, its sponsor says.

That could make the current proposal a long shot for lawmakers who are looking for ways to raise state revenue as a temporary income tax hike is set to expire Jan. 1.

State Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat, sent letters to House Speaker Michael Madigan and Republican Leader Jim Durkin saying he plans to move the expansion proposal for legislative action soon. So far, he's offered plans to either create a new Chicago mega-casino or create five new Illinois casinos and add slots at tracks.

However, Rita said the current proposals have met with little enthusiasm.

"The reception to these amendments has been underwhelming," Rita wrote.

But the Senate sponsor of the bill said he does not understand why the bill is lacking support as it passed out of the upper chamber.

"Obviously we had support, we passed it out of here," state Sen. Terry Link said. "So, I think there's a lot of support."

Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said since he passed the bill out of the Senate he has not been invited to be part of the process that Rita is in charge of.

The plan was approved in Senate by a 32-20 vote.

So far, neither Gov. Pat Quinn nor Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gotten involved with the plan.

The horse racing industry and the existing casinos are against the proposal, which would offer tracks like Arlington International Racecourse half as many slot machines as in previous bills.

Anti-gambling advocates are against any expansion.

And the regions where new casinos or horse racing slots would be placed have broken out in local disputes, Rita said.

Also, a new 10,000 gambling position casino -- potentially the largest in the world -- might not be enough for Chicago, others argue.

Still, the proposal could change and a new one could emerge before lawmakers' May 31 budget deadline.

As Illinois continues to hunt for new ways to increase revenue as the temporary income tax is set to expire next January, some lawmakers could look to slot machines to come up with some of the money they need.

When the temporary tax expires it could take with it around $1.6 billion, which gambling advocates think could be largely made up for with a Chicago casino bringing in $1 billion a year in revenue.

"The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce testified last month that a Chicago casino alone could generate nearly $1 billion a year in revenue for the state and city, and that a 10,000-position casino as I allowed for in one amendment might not be enough to meet the consumer demand," Rita said in his message.

However, similar gambling plans have been passed by the legislature before only to be vetoed once they hit Quinn's desk. Quinn recently has said he wants strong ethical safeguards be included in any plan put before him.

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