SPRINGFIELD – A huge gambling expansion bill – including a casino for Danville – cleared the Illinois Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 31-20. But Gov. Pat Quinn has already expressed reservations about major gambling expansion. And the House, which would have just eight days in early January to consider the measure, traditionally has been less welcoming to major gambling bills.
Among area senators, only Mike Frerichs, the Champaign Democrat whose district includes Danville, voted for the bill. Republican Sens. Dale Righter of Charleston and Dan Rutherford of Chenoa voted against it. Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted present.
The legislation includes new casinos for Danville, Rockford, Lake County and the south suburbs, plus an exceptionally large casino for Chicago – with 4,000 gaming positions – that would be owned by the city. Existing riverboat casinos could expand to 1,600 positions in 2013. The bill also permits slot machines at horse-racing tracks, according to Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan.
"Is it a huge expansion? Yes, I'm not going to deny it," Link said. "But we've got a huge deficit in the state of Illinois. We've got huge problems in the state of Illinois. So you don't look at little things to fix it. You look at big things to fix it. This is the way to do it."
Frerichs predicted that several groups would be interested in obtaining the casino license for Danville, and said there is "a lot of support out there for it."
"Everyone from the mayor to other elected officials to their chamber of commerce. There seems to be a general consensus that it's not what they ideally would like. They'd like to have some large manufacturers like they had for years. They've been trying very hard to attract some other companies and have had a lot of successes. But this is something that would employ a thousand to 1,200 people and bring in a lot of money to local coffers for redevelopment."
Frerichs also said Illinois racetracks and Illinois agribusiness would be helped by the legislation.
But Righter and Rutherford said massive gambling expansion shouldn't be used to solve the state's financial problems.
"This is far too big," Righter said. "And I'm especially concerned about having a Chicago casino that is owned by the city. My constituents read about the graft and corruption already up there, and they wonder what this is like and how this will reflect on them and the state of Illinois."
Rutherford said he is fundamentally opposed to gambling expansion "but when you see something like this, it is dramatically expanding gambling, and I have a big problem with that.
"The only reason this can even have any life like this today is because Illinois is so short of money. This becomes the desperate move. In my opinion, good public policy is not done when you're under the pressure to make decisions like that."
He acknowledged that the bill "would help my Danville friends, but with all respect, I think we have to do what's best for public policy, not because we're put over the economic barrel."