New gambling bill sails through Senate committee

New gambling bill sails through Senate committee

SPRINGFIELD — A new gambling-expansion bill in Illinois — the third version in three years — was introduced and immediately approved in a Senate committee Wednesday.

Sponsor Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said he hoped for a vote in the full Senate as soon as Thursday.

The gambling bill, which again calls for casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and the south suburbs of Chicago, also for the first time includes so-called "I-gambling," or online gambling.

Nevada and New Jersey already have approved I-gambling, Link said. California and Delaware are considering it.

Although no sports betting would be allowed in I-gambling, video poker and other games would be permitted.

"You could sit there and do what they're doing right now with offshore betting," Link said. "You put your credit card number up there. You put x amount of dollars up there for you to bet. But this would be limited to Illinois only. I couldn't bet with Nevada or New Jersey. It's for Illinois residents in Illinois."

Under the way the legislation (SB1739) is written, I-gambling could yield about $150 million a year, Link said, and the other parts of the bill — five casinos, slot machines and "racinos" at Illinois racetracks and possible gambling positions at Chicago's two airports — could bring in another $400 million to $1 billion annually.

If the measure is fully enacted, the number of physical gambling locations in the state would more than double from 10 to 23.

All of the state's money from I-gambling would go to the state's pension funds, Link said, while the yield from the land- and river-based casinos would go to education.

Unlike past gambling-expansion bills, however, no proceeds would go to county fairs, 4-H groups, soil and water conservation districts, and other organizations that had been added to attract downstate votes in the Legislature.

"The governor requested that. He took it all out in his proposal and we went along," said Link, adding that $10 million for Gamblers Anonymous and $5 million for renovations of the Illinois State Fairgrounds were retained.

Several other revisions to the bill were made at the governor's request, Link said, including a ban on campaign contributions by gambling license holders and a provision placing all of the new facilities under the state gaming board.

A spokeswoman in Quinn's office said Wednesday evening that the governor just received the bill, was reviewing it and would have no further comment just yet.

State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, whose district includes Danville and who is a major supporter of expanded gambling, said the I-gambling and the loss of money for the downstate groups and agencies could be problematic in luring votes.

"I know that money is something that a lot of downstaters would be interested in," he said. "I would not count out the possibility that some effort will be made to put that back in."

And the I-gambling "is a new dynamic that has not existed in the past and presents ramifications that could be different for some members," Hays said. "We're just going to have to let this play out a bit."

Hays said he saw the new gambling-expansion bill for the first time Wednesday afternoon.

"I want to take a step back and get a long look at this," he said of the 550-page bill.

Republican senators objected to the swiftness with which the measure was being rocketed out of the Senate Executive Committee.

"We hadn't even seen this until an hour or so ago," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. "The fact of the matter is that this has a lot of impact on a lot of people in the state and I think they're entitled to have some time to digest it."

Two regular opponents of gambling-expansion bills registered their displeasure with the new measure Wednesday.

The executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, Tom Swoik, said that since 2007, casino revenue statewide have dropped 38 percent.

"And now this triples the amount of gaming positions out there," Swoik said. "This is at a time when we're looking at video gaming up and running, video poker up and running, and the Internet is another large component of this. As I've said before, we're not against expansion. We'd like to see responsible expansion. We're not against a casino in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, the Waukegan area.

"Slots at racetracks will hurt us. We're not creating new gamblers here, but we're more than doubling the number of venues."

And Anita Bedell of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems said she was concerned that children would be easily exposed to gambling with the online betting.

"This is a very bad idea. It's coming too fast and there's not enough time for legislators to thoroughly vet it," she said.