SPRINGFELD -- Backers of expanded gambling in Illinois took a surprising beating in the Illinois House Wednesday, falling two votes short of passing a revised gaming bill.
With the House tote board showing 58 votes in favor and 53 against, the sponsor of SB 1849, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, put the measure on postponed consideration. The bill needed 60 votes to pass. Perhaps more important, it needed 71 votes to overcome an anticipated veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.
For now, though, Lang must work to get at least 60 votes or the legislation would have to wait and be revived in what is expected to be an abbreviated spring legislative session.
Wednesday's vote was a surprise because a similar bill passed the House in May, 65-50.
But Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, a major supporter of the expanded gambling, noted that two past "yes" votes were absent from the House Wednesday and that three other people who had voted for the bill in May had either died or retired from the Legislature in the five intervening months.
"I think we can try it again," said Hays, standing outside the House chambers with a glum Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer and Alderman Michael Puhr after the failed vote. "Maybe we'll get it (tomorrow)."
Lang said he would study the roll call "and see who was yes and who was no and determine if there's an opportunity to pick up the needed votes."
Among East Central lawmakers, Reps. Hays, Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville; and Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, voted yes.
Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, voted no.
Jakobsson said, however, that she might vote for the bill if it comes up again.
"I voted no in May," she said. "If you looked at my record you'd know I've always been a no on gambling. But I've talked to the sponsor many times and told him that if I changed my mind it would be because there would be a casino in Danville, which would mean jobs for our area. So I'm still weighing that."
Hays, whose district includes Danville where one of five new casinos would be located under the legislation, spoke for the bill on the House floor.
"This is not about gaming in any way," Hays said. "In Vermilion County this is about jobs. This is about 750 jobs that will be brought to East Central Illinois."
Hays told lawmakers that 10,000 people have left Danville in the last three decades.
"Twenty-nine percent of the citizenry of the community is gone. Twenty-five percent of the citizenry in the county is gone," he said. "We have studies that indicate that 65 percent of the revenue will come back across the state line from Indiana into Illinois. What a wonderful dynamic that would be in this era."
Other casinos would be licensed in Chicago, Rockford, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County. The bill also would allow slot machines at all Illinois racetracks.
Although the gaming expansion no longer includes betting at the state fairgrounds in Springfield, the revised bill calls for spending $10 million a year for capital improvements at the fairgrounds. That provision was added to retain the support of Springfield area lawmakers.
But several legislators, a number of whom represent areas that have existing casinos that are opposed to the gambling expansion, spoke against the bill.
"This is not right for Illinois, for the people," said Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon. "We're putting them at risk for the sake of a greenback."
Lang, however, said the gaming expansion would be good for jobs and economic development in Illinois.
"The governor of Illinois talks about putting people to work but he ain't doing it," he said. "This bill will pay a billion dollars in old bills. It will put a billion dollars into state coffers. It will put people to work."