Ill. Senate passes casino expansion bill

May 31, 2011 (SPRINGFIELD)

The bill now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn who has the power to make changes with an amendatory veto. He hasn't said what he will do.

The bill 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 O'Hare and Midway 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. It could mean billions for the state.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says a casino would energize Chicago's economy and create as many as 10,000 jobs.

More slots, more betting, more casinos equal more jobs and more money for the state. At least that's how Senate sponsors sold it.

"Unemployment is dropping. We want it to drop a lot more in the state of Illinois. This is a way of continuing that," said State Sen. Terry Link, (D) Waukegan, casino bill sponsor.

"We've got to get the horseshoe out of Indiana's rear end. And we've got to put Chicago's casino right on the lakefront," said State Sen. Martin Sandoval, (D) Cicero.

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

But Gov. Pat Quinn could still scale it all back. Suddenly lawmakers who reportedly called him irrelevant days ago are now changing their tune.

"The governor is always relevant. The governor is the one who has to sign these bills. If he doesn't sign them, that shows you how relevant he is," said State Sen. John Cullerton, (D) Chicago, Senate president.

Des Plaines is just six weeks away from opening a casino. But now competition could come from slot machines next door at O'Hare and nearby at the racetrack in Arlington Heights.

"We've been through this process for approximately 10 years. We were the tenth and final license. Tenth and final usually means final," said Martin Moylan, Des Plaines mayor.

Lawmakers like the promise of $1.5 billion dollars in upfront fees from new casinos and new revenue predicted at half a billion dollars a year. That's a lot of money in a state where legislators can't even agree on whether the budget they approved for next year is more or less than what they spent this year.

"Any Democrat that tells you that this tax increase is going to be temporary is not being truthful with you. When they pass a budget to spend another $1 billion more next year than this year, it will be impossible to take that temporary tax off," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.

Gov. Quinn has said he couldn't support a gaming expansion this big. Now, though, aides say he is open to talking about anything that increases revenue and creates jobs.

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