Casino expansion looks more like sure bet
SPRINGFIELD — What for years has looked like a long shot — an expansion of casino gambling in Illinois, including a facility in Danville — is looking more certain after an Illinois House vote on Wednesday.
Supporters of a plan to develop five more casinos in the state, on top of the existing 10, believe they have enough support even to overcome a possible veto by Gov. Pat Quinn. The bill also calls for permitting slot machines at race tracks to help the state's weaken horse-racing industry.
The Senate, though, may be a different story. A vote on the gambling expansion may not come there until next week, Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, said Thursday.
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, who supports the gambling expansion legislation (SB 1849), said "I don't anticipate a problem passing it out of this chamber, but getting a veto-proof majority will require a little more work.
"The last time it came out of here, there were 31 votes, so that means picking up five new ones. That's possible, but it will require some work."
Advocates of casino gambling say they were heartened by the surprisingly strong vote in the House where there were 69 yes votes Wednesday. Two more votes would be needed to overcome a gubernatorial veto.
"I was very, very pleased with that," said Hays, whose House district includes Danville. "I know we have at least two more votes, and probably more, who say they will help us if we need to override a veto.
"We feel very, very good that there is a solid 71 votes to override a veto in the House."
Among the 69 yes votes Wednesday were three central Illinois Republicans who had opposed the gambling expansion before — Reps. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign; Adam Brown, R-Decatur; and Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth.
"The benefit of this bill," Barickman said, "are both the jobs that are created to Vermilion County specifically, but also the financial benefits brought to a number of different agricultural interests such as our 4-H, Extension, county fairs, soil and water conservation districts. All of those groups have expressed to me that funding of their operations must be addressed by Springfield. I came here looking for solutions and this is a solution that will bring some much-needed relief to them."
Brown offered a similar explanation.
"By no means am I a proponent of expanded gambling, but you take a look at this bill and the benefits to agriculture I think outweigh any detriments in the bill," said Brown, a freshman lawmaker. "When agriculture is the number one industry in our state I think it's got to be a priority, not only in this bill but in several other bills."
Both Barickman and Brown, as well as Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said they would vote for an override if Quinn vetoed the bill. Until the recent past, Jakobsson had opposed any gambling expansion.
"Everyone knows we're in a crisis as far as our revenue, and I believe that by putting people to work and giving them jobs, they'll need fewer of our services. As people are working that will eventually balance things out.
"You know we talk about the social ills of gaming but look at the social ills of unemployment."
Hays said that for Danville, the casino bill "would mean several hundred jobs, several hundred million dollars invested in our community, 350 people going to work out of our labor halls."
Quinn said the gaming bill has "major ethical shortcomings," including the lack of a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests. He also said that it "does not ensure clear oversight" of a proposed Chicago casino.