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House clears budget, gambling measure that includes adding Chicago casino

After two days of shaky behind-the-scenes negotiations, House lawmakers left Springfield having passed a comprehensive spending and capital plan. The Illinois Senate plans to return for bill action on Sunday and must still approve the gambling measure.

Gamblers play craps in the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City N.J., in February. File Photo.
The Illinois House of Representatives Saturday approved a comprehensive expansion to gambling in a move that would bring a casino in Chicago.
AP Photo/Wayne Parry

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House in overtime on Saturday passed a comprehensive capital and budget plan — including a measure that many thought would fail: a gambling and sports-betting plan that would add a long-awaited Chicago casino.

After two days of shaky behind-the-scenes negotiations, it was comprehensive enough for both Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin to dub the session “historic.”

And if passed by the Senate on Sunday, the budget and capital plans will give Gov. J.B. Pritzker a series of gigantic wins for his first year in office. The state hasn’t had a major capital plan since 2009, when former Gov. Pat Quinn signed the $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now! Act.

The Illinois Senate plans to return for bill action on Sunday, and must still approve the gambling measure, as well as several budget and capital measures, including a gas tax hike.

Amid the talks of bipartisanship and celebration on the House floor, lawmakers on Saturday cleared measures that would, in part, raise the gas tax by 19 cents; raise the price of cigarettes by $1; bump the price of electric vehicle registration by $250 and by $50 for all other vehicles; and a 15% tax on e-cigarettes. Lawmakers approved a $40.6 billion spending plan and a $43 billion infrastructure package.

House lawmakers on Saturday also achieved what once seemed impossible: agreeing on a comprehensive gambling expansion and sports-betting bill that not only survived a feud between a billionaire casino owner and two fantasy sports-betting companies, but also added authorizing a long-talked about and controversial Chicago casino. Money the city would get from the casino would be earmarked to pay for police and fire pensions. It also would bring slot machines to three horse racing tracks.

The measure also survived consternation from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who late Friday said she couldn’t get on board with having slot machines at places like Soldier Field. By Saturday afternoon, after talks with Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Gov. J.B. Pritzker, she changed her tune.

“Legalizing sports betting and expanding gaming will create jobs up and down the state, from Rockford to Chicago to Walker’s Bluff, where communities hungry for employment will see 10,000 new jobs,” Pritzker said in a statement after the passage. “After the Supreme Court legalized sports betting, I promised the people of Illinois that sports wagering would be a key element of my legislative agenda, so that we are competitive with our neighboring states and can create more revenue for communities around Illinois.”

Pritzker and Lightfoot “collaboratively worked with the bill sponsors to make clear that the legislative intent will reflect that there are limits on both the number of and locations for sports betting venues,” the governor said in a statement.

Lightfoot on Saturday, too, said there was agreement to allow a limited amount of betting at sports venues “subject to local oversight and control.”

“These enhancements to the gaming proposal will allow us to maximize revenue capabilities of a new casino for the City of Chicago and ensure a good quality of life for our neighborhoods that might otherwise be affected,” the mayor said in a statement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and House Speaker Michael Madigan celebrate Saturday on the floor of the statehouse in Springfield after the House passed the state’s first major capital plan since 2009.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and House Speaker Michael Madigan celebrate Saturday on the floor of the statehouse in Springfield after passing the state’s first major capital plan since 2009.
Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

The House voted 87-27 on the measure, with the revenue to be used to fund the state’s vertical projects — which include buildings such as schools and recreational facilities — within the capital plan.

The measure would add six new casinos in Chicago, Waukegan, the south suburbs, Williamson County in southern Illinois, Rockford in northern Illinois and Danville in the state’s east-central region.

The Chicago casino, which would be regulated by the Illinois Gaming Board, would be allowed to have up to 4,000 gambling positions — three times more than any other casino in the state currently has. The money from the proposed Chicago casino would be split in thirds among the city, state and the private owner.

Video gambling machines would be OK’d for larger truck stops and slot machines would be allowed at O’Hare and Midway airports.

The bill also includes a changed version of a “penalty box” for fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel. In essence, the two sites have been running in Illinois despite a 2015 opinion by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that called the sites’ gaming unconstitutional.

The sites were in a war with Neil Bluhm and other casino owners during the gambling negotiations. Bluhm was frustrated that the fantasy sites had a heads up in online betting. Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming owns Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

If cleared, no companies can get one of three online only sports-betting licenses — pegged at $20 million — for 18 months. Instead the fantasy sports sites can partner with a casino, a race track or a sports venue that offers a sports book. Those wanting to bet would have to physically enter a casino sportsbook to register to play and to place deposits. They then would be able to follow the action on the apps.

After 18 months, the sites would be able to run independently online, should they get one of the online licenses the state is offering.

Additionally, casinos, sports venues and tracks would be able to offer sports betting as soon as they’re licensed.

Within the capital measure to fund vertical projects, which include buildings, such as schools and recreational facilities, $150 million would come from an increase in video gaming terminal taxes; $10 million from sports wagering revenue; $500 million from upfront license fees from casino and sports betting; $30 million from a tax on parking garages and lots; $68 million from an increase on the real estate transfer tax on commercial properties; $45 million from removing the sales tax exemption on traded-in property valued above $10,000; and $156 million from an increase on the cigarette tax by $1 per pack.

Another capital measure to fund horizontal projects, including roads, bridges and mass transit, is funded by increasing the gas tax by 19 cents and increasing vehicle registration fees.