Pritzker signs bill that makes Chicago casino more feasible

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law Tuesday that paves the way for development of a major casino in Chicago, something officials expect to provide significant revenues for the state's recently passed capital improvements plan known as Rebuild Illinois.

Lawmakers passed the bill during their special session in May. They initially approved a Chicago casino plan in the massive gaming expansion law enacted in 2019, but a subsequent study showed the taxes and fees included in that bill would have made such a casino financially infeasible.

The bill signed by Pritzker, Senate Bill 516, provides for a lower tax schedule that ranges from 22.5% to 77.4% of adjusted gross receipts from slot machines, and from 15% to 35% on table games. That revenue is split between the state and the city of Chicago, with the state getting the larger share of the cut.

In February, while the bill was being negotiated, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot estimated that a casino could produce around $1.2 billion in revenue, with the bulk of that going into the state's coffers. That money is earmarked for so-called vertical construction projects such as hospitals and university campus improvements.

The city's share of revenue is earmarked for police and firefighter pension obligations, and a small amount is set aside for Cook County for criminal justice enhancements.

"Working with the General Assembly and Mayor Lightfoot, we accomplished what eluded so many others, and now this momentous legislation tackles key priorities for the state of Illinois - helping to ensure that Chicago can pay for first responders' pensions and alleviate the burden on property taxpayers, along with investing in universities and hospitals throughout the state," Pritzker said in a statement. "Thousands of Illinoisans will be working on these projects, earning a good living that will support their families as we do the important work of rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and investing in the future."

Rep. Robert Rita, a Blue Island Democrat and one of the principal negotiators of the bill, called the bill signing "a day many years and many long hours in the making," adding that it would provide a boost to both the city's and state's economies.

Sen. Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill, said it would provide "a measure of financial stability to Chicago's public safety pensions" while at the same time providing relief to Chicago property tax payers.

Other provisions of the bill authorize the Illinois Department of Agriculture to operate video gambling terminals at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and the DuQuoin State Fair. It calls on the agency to sign three-year contracts with licensed terminal operators, with money from those contracts going to each fair's capital improvements and harness racing funds.

The bill takes effect today.

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