Massive casino expansion clears hurdle

May 31, 2011 (SPRINGFIELD)

The bill now headed for a final vote in the full Senate would add 14 new gaming venues, including casinos in Chicago, north suburban Park City, Danville, Rockford and an undetermined south suburban site as well as slot machines at airports and horse racing facilities: Arlington, Hawthorne Race Course, Fairmount Park (Collinsville), Balmoral Park and Maywood Park; Quad City Downs, a shuttered standardbred track owned by Arlington's parent company, Churchill Downs Inc.; and at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

The measure would add nearly 40,000 individual gaming positions in Illinois. In previous sessions, a majority of state senators voted in favor of other casino expansion bills.

Illinois needs cash and lawmakers are counting on the new crop of casinos to produce it.

"We can't continue to borrow to pay for spending we can't afford. This is way to take some of the pressure off taxes, said Sen. Matt Murphy, (R) Palatine.

"We already have gambling in this state...the state of California has over 600 casinos and we'll have what, 15, so we're not even close to any of these states," said Sen. Terry Link, (D) Waukegan, gaming bill sponsor, when asked if he was comfortable with the state becoming hooked on gaming revenue.

The bill that easily sailed out of a Senate committee would allow five new casinos as well as slot machines at seven horse racing sites and inside security at O'Hare and Midway Airports.

The biggest casino in the state would be in the city of Chicago.

"I worked hard pre even yesterday's vote in the House on finding an agreement so that we can advance Chicago's economic interest as it relates to gaming," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Those who currently operate casinos in the state find themselves in the odd spot of lobbying against more gaming. Their interest: Purely economic.

"Some of these facilities are going to be in direct competition with existing casinos. Our revenue is down one-third. It just doesn't make sense to put more casinos out there. We're not creating more gamblers," said Tom Swoik of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan had thought his suburb would be home to the state's tenth and final casino, scheduled to open in mid-July.

"Our revenues are going to be way down, and that's not how it was incepted," said Moylan.

The Illinois House passed a similar bill Monday. It's unclear whether Governor Pat Quinn will veto the expansion, which he has previously said was too large. He could use his amendatory veto to tweak the legislation.

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