Gambling proponent doesn't have a favored plan

Updated 4/15/2014 6:48 PM

Political Editor


The Democrat pushing for more gambling in Illinois says he's not yet picked whether to push forward with a plan just for a Chicago casino or one that also would include slots at Arlington International Racecourse and a casino in Lake County.

State Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat, met with the Daily Herald editorial board Tuesday in advance of Wednesday's scheduled daylong House committee hearing in Chicago on both plans.

"I would just like to see which way we'd like to go," Rita said.

The Chicago casino plan would create a building with up to 10,000 gambling positions, far more than the 1,200 now at each suburban casino.

The other proposal would create a smaller Chicago casino as well as four others, including one in Lake County. And it would allow for 600 slot machines at Arlington, half of the 1,200 called for in previous plans.

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Rita hopes that proposal will satisfy criticism that past expansion plans have been too large.

Officials from the state's horse racing industry sent a letter Tuesday to Rita opposing both measures. They said the Chicago-only casino doesn't help the industry and the second plan cuts down on the number of racetrack slots from what was agreed upon in earlier legislation.

Adding gambling venues has won legislative approval twice since 2011, but Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn opposed both bills, saying they didn't go far enough to safeguard against the involvement of organized crime or to limit campaign contributions from gambling operations. Last year, legislation establishing five new casinos and authorizing slot machines at racetracks and airports was discussed but never called for a vote.

Much has changed in recent months, including the passage of pension reform legislation, which Quinn had said must be accomplished before he'd consider a gambling expansion proposal.

Illinois is also hunting for new sources of revenue as lawmakers debate whether to let a temporary income tax increase roll back as scheduled next January, taking with it about $1.6 billion. Supporters say gambling expansion would provide an estimated $400 million to $1 billion a year in revenue.

•The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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