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Gaming bill that would create Chicago casino may get another shot

Illinois State Capitol building

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. | Seth Perlman/Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD — Efforts to drastically expand gaming in Illinois — and create a Chicago casino — may get another chance after falling short of advancing in an Illinois House committee on Memorial Day.

With adjournment of the Illinois General Assembly just days away, the House Executive Committee on Monday voted 5-4, one vote shy of advancing the revived measure that has been in the works since last year.

But State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, isn’t giving up on the measure and may call the gaming measure for a vote before adjournment, according to Ryan Keith, a spokesman for Rita. The legislation is listed on a committee scheduled for Tuesday morning, but may not be called then, Keith said.

Among other things, the measure would create six new casinos, including one in Chicago; expand existing riverboats; allow for increased winnings on video gaming; and allow for additional gambling, including slot machines, at horse racing tracks. Profits from a Chicago casino would go to police and fire pensions.

Tony Petrillo, general manager at Arlington International Racecourse, testified that horse tracks are “on the verge of extinction from fierce competition.” He said those who own horses are moving out of the state, as well.

Petrillo said the measure would reverse the decline of the industry and create 1,200 to 1,500 permanent jobs while bringing in at least another $100 million in annual tax revenue.

Others said the expansion would create saturation and “cannibalization” of the gaming industry. Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said the state’s 10 casinos lost 28 percent of its annual customer base because of video gaming.

“These gamers didn’t disappear. They went to the 6,500 neighborhood locations with slots,” Swoik said.The new expansion would translate to 27 new casinos, he added.

But State Sen. Terry Link called opposition to the measure “disappointing” and said the expansion would create an economic boon for the state.

“It’s really disappointing on what I’m hearing today, and it’s coming across very clearly, ‘I got mine. I don’t want anybody else to have theirs,'” Link, D-Vernon Hills, said. “You have to remember one thing, of those of us who have gray hair in this room, all of this was illegal at one time in the state of Illinois. No one anticipated the casinos making the kind of money that they made from the beginning.”

Link called expansion a “win-win situation for everybody” — filling a budget hole without raising taxes.

“And those who have a little bit of a problem I just say one thing. Suck it up, because you’re going to still make money in this industry and you know you are,” Link said.

The measure didn’t address fantasy sports betting, internet gaming or sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court recently lifted a federal ban on sports betting. But Rita said he expects to address those industries — and their regulations — in the future.