Three out of the four Republican candidates running for governor say they are jittery about expanding gaming in Illinois, though each says they’re willing to consider expansion proposals — with caveats.
Bruce Rauner and state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said they want to see local cities put a question to voters where casinos are proposed.
“We all have concerns about our state becoming too involved in gaming,” Brady told the Sun-Times. However, he added that he’s not a hardliner against proposals and believes slot machines at racetracks would help boost the racing industry in the state.
At a candidates’ forum Thursday night in Peoria, Rauner made clear he was not a gambler and he doesn’t like gambling.
“Bruce thinks gambling is an issue that is best decided by the local community and that’s who should be driving the decisions,” his spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “He will partner with local communities to make a decision that is best for them.”
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he would be open to a proposal and to legislation.
“In general, I do not support expansion of gaming simply to raise more state revenue,” Rutherford said in an email response. “If a gaming expansion bill was to be presented with proper regulation and sufficient oversight, I would be willing to entertain a discussion.”
State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, who seemed the most in favor of expanded gambling, said he would support it to boost state revenue.
“To relieve pressure on state finances, I support limited casino expansion, if the expansion were approved locally,” Dillard said in an emailed response to Sun-Times questions.
The candidates’ perspectives on gaming are timely as a massive gaming expansion bill that includes a Chicago-based casino is being readied for another round in Springfield this session.
Its sponsor, Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, told the Sun-Times that the legislation still includes a Chicago-based casino and a proposal that would add slot machines inside the state’s racetracks as well as at Chicago’s two airports. A hang-up in the bill is how slot machines at a racetrack just outside of East St. Louis would affect the city’s riverboat, which accounts for a significant slice of the town’s revenue. Rita has a public hearing scheduled this week in East St. Louis to hear from locals on the issue.
“What I’m doing now is breaking out the parts that had some issues,” in last year’s session, Rita said. “This was one of the major hurdles that we needed to overcome.”
The other hurdle is grappling with Chicago’s interest in owning a casino and having a different level of oversight — something with which Gov. Pat Quinn took issue.
The legislation, which was discussed at length but never called for a vote last year, proposes five new casinos: one in the south suburbs, one in Chicago, one in Danville, one in Lake County, one in Rockford. It also would add slot machines at racetracks and O’Hare and Midway airports.
Brady said he would not support a Chicago-owned casino, while Dillard said he would support it as long as there was local interest.
“As a matter of fairness, if the rest of Illinois has the ability to have casinos or riverboats, the city of Chicago should have that ability too,” Dillard said.
Brady said he’s against the proposal to let Chicago own a casino.
“I don’t know why we would . . . give one city the right to own versus another,” Brady said. “I think anywhere they want to put one, it would be wise to let the voters say if they want it or not.”
Brady said he’s “open-minded” about slot machines at racetracks to “maintain the viability of the horse-trading industry.” Rutherford said he, too, is open-minded about slots at tracks, and Dillard supports it.
Rauner would support it only if it were supported by the “local community,” his campaign said.
“I don’t gamble, I don’t like gambling,” Rauner said in a Thursday forum. “I believe casinos and gambling is here. We should allow our local governments to decide for themselves.”
In an interview with the Sun-Times last week, Brady said he has voted “present” in the past on gaming bills because he has a financial interest in a hotel in Danville, and Danville has been included in the bill.
“My position has never been to support it. It’s not that [I’ve been] adamantly opposed,” Brady said. “I often thought it would be better that a local jurisdiction would pass through referendum.”