Testimony mounts for and against Chicago-only casino option

Editorial: Massive gaming expansion still bad bet for Illinois

The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus | Posted: Monday, May 4, 2015 11:00 pm

Some Springfield observers say this is the do-or-die year for a massive Illinois gambling expansion that includes a Chicago casino. We wouldn’t bet on it, given that nothing is ever dead in Illinois’ capital city.

But we suspect they are right about one thing: The odds of a gaming expansion package getting through the Illinois General Assembly are better in 2015 than they ever have been. Though they remain long, proponents are cautiously optimistic for a number of reasons, including:

— The cash-strapped state’s desperate need for revenue. Proponents say that a Chicago casino, slot machines and video gaming at race tracks and four new riverboat casinos would add up to big bucks for the Windy City and a state struggling to fill gaping budget holes.

— The appetite for a new capital bill to address the major infrastructure needs of the state. Video gaming revenue helped to finance the last plan. Expanded gambling might once again be deemed a painless way to pay for a new one.

— Illinois and Chicago public pension debt that will only worsen if the Illinois Supreme Court rejects even the modest legislative pension reform measures a lower court already declared unconstitutional.

— A new governor. Former Gov. Pat Quinn vehemently opposed gaming expansion. Though Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he is no fan of gaming, he also has  told editorial boards including this one that the issue is a local one. Toward that end, he reportedly has been talking with Chicago leaders about a casino there.

— Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reelection. This champion of a Chicago-owned gaming operation has made it a top priority and already is working with leadership to make it happen. Don’t count him out. After all, he managed to get lawmakers to approve a larded-up 2013 measure that would have become law had Gov. Quinn not vetoed it.

According the Chicago Sun-Times, Mayor Emanuel’s staff is lobbying the four legislative leaders and the governor about a large, city-owned casino as well as adding new casinos in the south suburbs, Rockford, Danville and Lake County.  That plan could join bills backed by Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, which are the subject of  hearings that kicked off Monday. House Bill 2939 calls for a state-owned, professionally managed Chicago casino with revenue to be shared around the state. In addition to a state-owned Chicago casino, House Bill 3564 would also add four new riverboat casinos and allow slot machines and video gaming at race tracks.  Read more

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