Tom Kacich: Gambling wars ahead in Midwest

Tom Kacich: Gambling wars ahead in Midwest

The Midwestern gambling wars may get amped up this year, with both Indiana and Illinois considering expanded gambling, Ohio picking up the pace and Kentucky pondering casinos at racetracks for the first time.

In Indiana, already the No. 3 gambling state in the country behind Nevada and New Jersey, lawmakers on Wednesday are scheduled to consider a bill to allow the state's two racetracks to become full "racinos" and to permit its 11 riverboats to convert to land-based casinos.

The changes, sponsors say, are in response to a gambling arms race that includes a fourth casino opening this spring in Ohio and comments last year by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear that he supported a constitutional amendment to allow casinos at that state's seven racetracks.

Illinois lawmakers likely will again consider a gambling expansion bill this year that would include, among other things, casinos in Danville and Chicago.

State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, said Tuesday that he doesn't think the potential changes in Indiana gambling laws would affect a Danville casino, which advocates contend would get most of its customers from western Indiana.

None of the existing Indiana casinos is in western Indiana, and the two racetracks in the state are east of Indianapolis.

"We have done market studies in the mid-2000s and we updated it in October 2012, and when you look at the market footprint that we're looking at, it doesn't stretch over to Indianapolis," Hays said. "It would include communities like Lafayette and Crawfordsville. So while obviously you keep an eye on what's going on, on the other side of the border, when you look at the market area and the numbers that we've run for potential market share coming back across the state line, I don't know that this would have a dramatic impact on that."

And in Illinois, Hays noted, "we're really not close to anybody. The closest would be East Peoria and then Joliet and Alton. So we still have a very large geographic footprint where there's no penetration at all."

Nearly all of Indiana's existing casinos are located on state borders — five in northwestern Indiana, and five either along the Ohio border or the Ohio River. Only the French Lick casino is not located within 5 miles of a border.

"When you look at where our primary market share would come from," Hays said, "what they're talking about would not affect it."

Frerichs/Bambenek spending. You probably wouldn't have guessed it, but the two candidates for the Illinois Senate's 52nd District seat spent more than $350,000 in the last election cycle.

Incumbent Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, spent $297,669, and Republican challenger John Bambenek chipped in another $67,451 in their low-key race won by Frerichs, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Frerichs, who received 48,493 votes, spent an astounding $6.14 for each vote he received. Bambenek spent $2.57 for each of the 26,310 votes he received.

So, where did all that money go? In Frerichs' case, his biggest single expenditure was a $49,000 contribution to the campaign of his colleague, Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria. But he also spent a great deal on campaign salaries, postage, golf outings and office rental.

Even after all that, Frerichs has $374,873 in his campaign fund and doesn't have to run for re-election for almost four years.

Big donors to Frerichs' campaign during the two-year election cycle included the Illinois Education Association, $30,000; the Illinois Federation of Teachers, $15,500; and the Illinois Laborers' Legislative Committee, $25,000.



Jakobsson/Meister spending. State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, spent only $11,581.28 in winning a sixth term to the Illinois House last November. She apparently was so confident of victory that she spent absolutely nothing in the critical Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 quarter, according to her campaign spending reports filed with the State Board of Elections.

Jakobsson spent about 51.9 cents for each of the 22,276 votes she received on Nov. 6 in her solidly Democratic district that takes in most of Champaign-Urbana.

She had no shortage of funds in her campaign treasury, the reports show, because she took in more than $10,000 in the last quarter, including $2,500 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 841 in Terre Haute, Ind., $2,000 from both the Illinois Trial Lawyers and the Mid Central Illinois District Council of Carpenters in Springfield; $1,000 from Emily's List, AT&T and Comcast; and $500 from Laborers Local 703 in Urbana.

Jakobsson now has more than $37,000 in her campaign treasury.

By contrast, her Republican challenger, Rob Meister, spent a total of $21,451.20 during his campaign that began in September 2011, about 14 months before Election Day. Based on the 9,918 votes he received, Meister spent $2.16 per vote.

In the last quarter, Meister received nearly $11,000 in campaign funds but spent $6,273. His biggest contribution was $10,000 from Otto Engineering/Family Taxpayers Network, headed by conservative activist Jack Roeser.

Meister still has $6,790 in his campaign fund.



Lincoln Day events. Champaign County Republicans will hold their annual Lincoln Day festivities Feb. 9 with a reception and luncheon featuring former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

Both events will be held at the Hilton Garden Conference Center in Champaign. Tickets to the noon luncheon are $50. A ticket to both the luncheon and an 11:15 a.m. reception are $100. Tickets are available by calling 355-3175.

West, a decorated 22-year Army veteran, served one term in Congress before being defeated last November. West, one of just two black Republicans in the House last term, was a favorite of tea party members.

Davis staff members. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who so far has offices only in Washington and Champaign, has assembled a staff with plenty of congressional experience, including three people who had worked for retired U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana.

His Washington chief of staff is Jen Daulby, formerly a lobbyist for Land O'Lakes Inc., who also — like Davis — had at one time worked for Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. She also worked for Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. The Washington staff also includes Bobby Frederick, Davis' legislative director who is a Champaign native and had worked for Johnson and former Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.; Ashley Phelps, a legislative assistant who also had worked for Schilling; and Kaitlyn Hastings, Davis' legislative correspondent who is a UI law school graduate and had worked for Reps. Aaron Schock and Judy Biggert, both Illinois Republicans.

The district office includes district chief of staff Tim Butler, who had worked for former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood; Jen White, a former Johnson staffer who is Davis' director of constituent services; Kayleen Carlson, Davis' director of outreach who had worked for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk; communications director Andrew Flach, who had worked for Kirk and Rep. Randy Hultgren; and Shanna Khan, Davis' immigration and international affairs specialist, who had worked for Johnson.

All of Davis' staff members are from Illinois, the congressman said.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at