Senate OKs Danville casino; Quinn opposes bill
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Senate Thursday approved a major gambling expansion bill that includes a casino in Danville.
But the measure is headed to a governor who is already on the record as opposing expanded gambling.
Gov. Pat Quinn's legal counsel, John Schomberg, testified against the bill in a committee hearing earlier Thursday evening.
"The governor's largest concern continues to be the ethical shortfalls," Schomberg said. He decried the lack of a ban on political contributions by gaming licensees or applicants, and noted they exist in surrounding states.
He said the bill included inadequate oversight for the Chicago casino, and said the measure imposes "unreasonable and unrealistic deadlines" on the Illinois Gaming Board for licensing the new casinos.
But in his closing remarks before the vote on the bill, sponsor Sen. Terry Link, D-Lincolnshire, said he has filed a separate bill to take care of most of Quinn's concerns. He said he would call the legislation (SB 3925) if the gaming bill is signed.
The bill (SB 1849) calls for opening five new casinos in the state -- at Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Park City and in the south Chicago suburbs -- plus allowing slot machines at Illinois' six racetracks.
Sen. Terry Link, D-Lincolnshire, the sponsor of the bill, told his colleagues that the expanded gambling could yield the state anywhere between $300 million and a billion dollars a year once fully implemented. Even in the upcoming fiscal year, long before any of the new facilities open, Link said the state could get as much as $400 million in licensing fees.
But Schomberg, the counsel for Gov. Quinn, said the revenue projections are "greatly overstated."
The Senate approved the measure 30-26. Among East Central Illinois lawmakers, only Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, voted "yes."
The 30 "yes" votes are important because they are far short of the 36 needed to ensure an override of an anticipated gubernatorial veto.
The House had approved the gaming bill on May 23 by a 69-47 vote, with three East Central Illinois legislators who had opposed gaming expansion in the past, voting for it this time.
The large margin was significant because it was nearly enough to provide sponsors with a veto-proof majority in the House.
Among the opponents to SB 1849 was Anita Bedell of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems and Tom Swoik of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, who noted that the recent opening of a casino in Des Plaines has meant losses at other gambling facilities in northeastern Illinois.
"We're not creating any new gamblers. The gamblers are being distributed more broadly," Swoik said.
Said Bedell, "Gambling is an unstable source of revenue that the General Assembly keeps coming back to, time after time ... and here you are with another gambling bill. This bill is not a magic bullet that will pay overdue bills or stop the drastic cuts in funding of our pensions."
But Link argued that the new casinos would help attract gamblers who now go to casinos in Wisconsin and Indiana.