Gambling expansion in Illinois no closer

SPRINGFIELD — Five months after another proposal to expand gambling in Illinois fizzled out, it's clear the idea is no farther along than it was when the Legislature adjourned in May.

After a hearing of the House Executive Committee Wednesday afternoon — a session attended by only a few members of the committee — Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, the sponsor of the gambling expansion bill admitted there are still problems with the legislation.

"One in particular is the regulatory, which is something that we've talked about in May. What I'm going to do now is analyze and think and go through what was testified to today," Rita said after the hearing. "I want to take a little time here to see what we can do, if there could be a bill or could not in the veto session."

But only three days remain in the fall veto session, all in the first full week of November.

Rita's gambling expansion bill includes a casino for Danville, and a number of other changes such as slot machines at racetracks. But its most controversial part calls for a casino in Chicago that would be regulated both by the state and the city.

That idea gets a thumbs-down from the Illinois Gaming Board.

"Frankly we would prefer that a Chicago casino be regulated the same as all of the other 10 Illinois casinos, with state regulation solely and under the jurisdiction of the IGB," said Caleb Melamed, the gaming board's legislative liaison.

He said the gaming board wants "ironclad assurances that the IGB is the ultimate state regulatory authority and there wouldn't be a conflict of jurisdictions that could impair the regulation of gaming."

Meanwhile, state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, accompanied by Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, restated the Vermilion County community's case for a riverboat casino.

"The original gaming legislation was designed to assist communities that were economically distressed," said Hays. "Why Danville? Danville is favorably located geographically. We will not cannibalize anybody's interest. We have done a lot of due diligence. All of the leaders in our community are for this."

An updated economic study, he said, shows that a casino "would have a very substantial positive economic impact. And we are a region in need of help."

Two-thirds of the revenue from the casino would come from Indiana bettors, Hays said.

"That is a remarkable statistic and we had that double-checked and that in fact is the case," he said. "The proposed location would be the closest casino (in Illinois) to Indianapolis. And there would be no competing gaming venues within a broad geographic area."

Rita said he would work with the gaming board and Chicago officials to develop new language for the gambling bill.

"What we're doing is getting some of the testimony out in the open, versus a bill getting put down and getting limited testimony," he said. "This has been opened up. We haven't done this in the past with a gaming bill and that's what I said I was going to do. Let me see where we're at. If we have language that we can put together we're going to have a bill that we'll have another hearing about."

Rita said he hasn't talked to Gov. Pat Quinn about the bill. The governor has said repeatedly, though, that he won't consider gambling expansion until the Legislature tackled a pension reform measure.

John Kindt, a professor emeritus of business at the University of Illinois, urged the Legislature to resist any gambling expansion. "The money is generated primarily from problematic gamblers. The industry knows that," he said.

But if the state opts to expand gambling, Kindt said it "you ought to tax it at 95, virtually 100 percent. Just pay a management location fee, which is what a lot of other jurisdictions do."

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