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Gambling measure gets lucky in Illinois House

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SPRINGFIELD — Chicago has lost "The Oprah Winfrey Show," but the Windy City is a step closer to getting a casino. The gambling expansion measure, SB 744, passed the House with a 65-50 vote.

By Mary J. Cristobal

SPRINGFIELD — Chicago has lost "The Oprah Winfrey Show," but the Windy City is a step closer to getting a casino. The gambling expansion measure, SB 744, passed the House with a 65-50 vote.

The amended plan adds five casinos: one in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Park City and to-be-determined location in Chicago's south suburbs. The measure still allows for the expansion of nine riverboat casinos and the installation of slot machines at seven horse-race tracks, both of which were in the original proposal.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who has long sought to add new casinos in Illinois, said a Chicago casino plus the statewide expansion of gaming venues would be worth billions of dollars in revenue, including licensing fees for expanding and obtaining gaming machines at the horse-racing venues. This revenue could help the state pay off some of its $8 billion deficit, Lang said.

"Altogether this bill will raise $1.5 billion in up-front revenue for the state of Illinois from these licensing fees, all of which are going to the unpaid bills of our state," said Lang.

"It's a bill for everybody, there's five casinos (and) racinos all over the place," said state Rep. David Harris, R-Mount Prospect. "When I first asked (Lang), 'Is the kitchen sink in there?' He said, 'It is.' So, if you like the kitchen sink, that's in there too.'"

Arlington Park, a horse-race track, is in Harris' district.

Gov. Pat Quinn and newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have said they would support a casino in Chicago.

Tom Swoik, executive director of Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said he's disappointed the measure passed the House, because the Illinois' gaming market is "saturated." The ICGA is a nonprofit that represents seven of nine riverboat casinos in Illinois.

However, this measure could save the horse-race industry. With more than 40,000 jobs rescued through this bill, the industry plans to create hundreds of thousands more.

"We, long ago in Illinois, established that gaming is acceptable, and what we are doing here is providing an opportunity for so much growth of business in this great state," said state Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport.

The Illinois Senate is expected to vote on the proposal Tuesday. State Sen Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said he's spoken with Quinn and Emanuel about the plan, adding that he expects the casino plan to succeed and work to begin soon on a Chicago casino.

"We've been doing this for years," said Link. "This is not something that we just thought up the last six days. … This gaming (legislation) has been around for a long time so it's nothing new."

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