Gaming Board revamp plan ahead of massive gambling expansion

Although the measure passed by the Illinois General Assembly hasn’t yet been signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, there are plans to make the state Gaming Board more “pro-gaming,” according to bill sponsor Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills.

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Guests play slot machines at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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There are more questions than answers when it comes to where a Chicago casino will land — and a revamped Illinois Gaming Board will be wading into uncharted territory in taking up the biggest gambling expansion the state has ever seen.

Although the measure passed by the Illinois General Assembly hasn’t yet been signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, there are plans to make changes to the Illinois Gaming Board to make the board more “pro-gaming,” according to state Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, who sponsored the gambling legislation and has worked to expand gaming in the state for years.

“You’re going to see changes rapidly,” Link said of the board tasked with regulating six new casinos, including a privately owned one in Chicago.

With one vacancy, the Gaming Board is likely to grow to five members. And Pritzker is expected to name a new executive director next month to replace Don Tracy, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Asked about changes to the board and any upcoming appointments, the governor’s office offered up little information.

“All of the governor’s current appointees will all comply with the language contained in SB 690,” Pritzker spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “We look forward to having a skilled and diverse board that will both regulate and effectively support gaming in Illinois.”

Illinois will see 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.

A feasibility study that is required in the bill will likely set the tone for the Chicago casino and may even require some changes. Link said a trailer bill is expected, to clear up any issues that arise from the feasibility study.

But there’s also a strict timeline to ensure the casinos get up and running in order to cash in on the much needed revenue. The legislation calls for the city and the Illinois Gaming Board to pick an independent analyst to study a Chicago casino’s feasibility and report within 150 days of the law taking effect.

That study will determine if the “taxation structure” established by the General Assembly “is actually gonna be viable, meaning that we can have a product that we can market and get financed,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week. The study will be presented to the gaming board, who will have to give final approval.

The mayor hasn’t dropped a hint about where she wants to put a Chicago casino. But Pritzker last week said he would prefer the casino be located separately from the downtown business district and away from McCormick Place.

The new casino will also have to be a certain distance from both Rivers Casino in Des Plaines and a new casino in the south suburbs to avoid “cannibalization” — when existing casinos suffer due to new ones.

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. And the money from the proposed Chicago casino would be split in thirds among the city, state and the private owner. Travelers will also soon see slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports.

There’s also a provision of the massive gambling bill that had some shaking their heads. State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, in February sponsored a bill that would ensure the Gaming Board was abiding by the Open Meetings Act. That language made it into the final gambling bill, but Syverson said it is being misinterpreted.

Several media outlets have reported the provision would exempt more sessions of the Gaming Board. But Syverson said he sponsored a bill in March to ensure the Gaming Board was operating in public. That language made it into the gambling bill that passed last week.

“The key to this is to tighten up the guidance of what is being done in closed meetings, which is what we did with putting this in place,” Syverson said.

The board would only be able to meet in executive session on personnel matters, on information that is privileged or involved proprietary or trade secrets, and information that’s already exempted based on federal and state law.

“We passed this legislation not because we have concerns about who’s on the board now, but it’s there to protect what happens in the future,” Syverson said.

The Gaming Board plans to meet for its first board meeting since the gambling measure was passed on Thursday in Chicago.

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