Madigan releases gaming proposal

Lawmaker calls it racist
December 11, 2007 4:51:12 PM PST
A proposal to expand gambling in Illinois could bring a casino to Chicago and rescue mass transit in the area. State representatives Lou Lang and Robert Molaro outlined the plan. House Speaker Mike Madigan supports the proposal.

The plan would make way for two new casinos and add slot machines and other electronic games to the state's five race tracks.

Seventy percent of the money raised would fund improvements for roads, bridges and transit. The other 30 percent would go to education.

But the latest plan for expanding casinos in Illinois may be a losing hand. The proposal by House Speaker Mike Madigan would add three casinos in Illinois, including one in Chicago. But one critic is calling this plan racist and says it will never pass.

An important critic and the sponsor of casino legislation in the state senate, Rickey Hendon says the House gaming plan released Monday by allies of Speaker Madigan is fatally flawed and racist because it sets up a two-tier investment scheme that allows big white-owned gaming companies to own 75 percent of the new casinos, while minorities have to go into a lottery for a chance to divide up the remaining investments.

"He wants to treat black people like this is Mississippi and this is 1950," said Hendon, (D) Chicago.

Senator Hendon says the 25 percent minority set-aside provision in the gaming bill drafted by House Speaker Michael Madigan would force African-Americans like him to enter a lottery for the right to purchase $5,000 shares in two new suburban casinos. But there's no limit on the investors who own the other 75 percent.

"Under his plan, if Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer both wanted to invest, Jerry Springer could go through the front door with his millions of dollars and be an investor, and Oprah with all of her money would have to go through the back door," said Hendon. "People in Illinois are more intelligent than the speaker is giving them credit for."

They are proposing the lottery system to give more minorities a chance to invest in the casinos. Unlike what happened with the ultimately unsuccessful Emerald Casino that was supposed to be in Rosemont with a group of wealthy, politically connected blacks, that included the widow of Chicago Bears hero Walter Payton, another ex-Bear Shaun Gayle and wife of film critic Roger Ebert, which is something Mayor Daley said he wants to avoid this time around.

"You want more people or just want a few? The day is over that someone will get this and flip and make $2 billion," said Daley. "If that happens, that's a disgrace upon the state of Illinois."

"I want everybody to be treated the same - black, white, Hispanic, Asian. Everybody should be treated the same. This is America," said Hendon.

But Madigan's allies claim it's a win-win for minorities with a set-aside program for middle-income people and a guarantee that the new gaming board will let wealthier minorities buy into the big investment groups.

"They're going to want to see a lot of minority names on there or good luck getting a license here in this climate in this state," said State Senator Bob Molaro, (D) Chicago.

Molaro's point is that big gaming companies like MGM will invite wealthy blacks, Latinos, Asians and women to invite big chunks of change in their majority share of the new casinos to win the bid while lower income minorities get into the game through the set-aside program.

But Rickey Hendon says there is no such guarantee in the Madigan bill to let people in on the big investment, and that's why he said it's a nonstarter.