May 30th, 2011

House OKs Chicago casino, slots at O'Hare, Midway

Chicago Tribune

A major gambling package won House approval today with provisions for a land-based casino in Chicago or a riverboat gambling palace on Lake Michigan, four more casinos around the state, and slot machines at racetracks and Chicago’s two airports.

If the plan makes it through the Senate and gets the governor’s signature, it would be Illinois’ biggest expansion of gambling in the more than two decades since the original riverboat gambling bill passed.

Supporters estimate the proposal would generate $1.4 billion in one-time upfront fees operators pay based on the number of positions they have.  Estimates are to $500 million a year in tax revenue. That money would be distributed to education, public works projects and local governments.

The House voted 65-50, with two members voting present, in favor.

New Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomed the news.

“I am pleased that the Ilinois House has approved legislation that allows for a casino in Chicago and I urge the Illinois Senate to act swiftly to pass this bill,” Emanuel said in a statement. “A Chicago casino will spur local economic growth and provide jobs to Chicagoans, both needed to get our city moving again.

Approval followed divided debate on the House floor.

“The most important part of this has nothing to do with gaming at all,” said sponsoring Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, during debate. “The most important part of this is putting people to work and helping pay the bills of the state of Illinois.”

Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, praised Lang for crafting legislation that would benefit downstate Illinois, particularly the agriculture and horse racing industry.

“In my area of the state, the horse racing industry has taken a brunt of the hit related to the gaming industry, and this is actually a promise kept to that industry,” Eddy said, noting past efforts to provide racing tracks with additional gambling revenue have been met with resistance.

“This is absolutely for the good of the great state of Illinois, it will grow our economy,” said Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica.

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, told colleagues the bill represents a “massive expansion” of gambling and there is a “societal price to be paid” with thousands of new gambling positions going on line. But he said he would reluctantly support the proposal, noting that the shuttering of Arlington Park would cost Arlington Heights a million dollars in year in revenues.

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