Gambling backers renew casino push despite declines
Backers of more gambling in Illinois are getting ready to introduce legislation that would create five new casinos and allow slot machines at horse racing tracks like Arlington International, similar to previous bills.
Lawmakers want to build off previous efforts, this time under new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and a plan could emerge in the next few weeks, state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said.
Recently, proposals have sought to add 1,200 slot machines to Arlington and construct new casinos in Lake County, Chicago, Rockford, Danville and the south suburbs. State Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat who has championed the legislation recently, agrees a new plan is coming soon.
"I think he understands that there's the need for finances in the state, so this is an opportunity to get things moving in the right direction," Link said of Rauner.
But Illinois has faced financial hardship for a while now, and gambling has not emerged as a savior. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed two proposals during his tenure, and lawmakers were either unwilling or unable to send him gambling legislation he liked.
"Gambling expansion would just sift people from one place to another and would not increase revenue," said Illinois Casino Gaming Association Executive Director Tom Swoik.
Illinois casinos brought in $86.7 million less in 2014 than they did in 2013, and overall casino admissions were down 1.4 million over the same time, statistics from the Illinois Gaming Board show.
Rivers Casino in Des Plaines was the only Illinois casino to see an increase in revenue in 2014. Rivers brought in over $425 million in 2014, $6.5 million more than 2013. While the casino's revenue was up, admissions were down 5.3 percent.
Elgin's Grand Victoria saw the largest revenue loss among suburban casinos. The riverboat casino took in $171.8 million in 2014, an 11.6 percent drop from 2013. Admissions at Grand Victoria also dropped 14.8 percent from 2013 to 2014. Aurora's Hollywood Casino saw a 12.7 percent decline in admissions, and Joliet's Hollywood Casino an 11.3 percent drop.
Meanwhile, horse racing fans have hoped for slot machines for years as their industry faces decline.
While Arlington International Racecourse Chairman Dick Duchossois is listed as a top donor to Rauner's inauguration and transition team committees, Arlington spokesman Thom Serafin says they, like many others, are unsure of what Rauner will do with gambling.
"We are anxiously observing from the sidelines," Serafin said.
Link has talked to Rauner about gambling expansion, and the governor has remained open to the idea. This year could be different, Link says, as gambling expansion faced stiff competition with statewide elections and other pressing issues last year.
"We got tied up with elections. We got tied up with the former governor's feelings on it, so we're starting fresh with a new governor," Link said.