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Illinois House OKs gambling expansion bill

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SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House has doubled down on gaming expansion to bring new dollars into the cash-strapped state.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House has doubled down on gaming expansion to bring new dollars into the cash-strapped state.

The House voted 69-47 on Wednesday to add:

  • More gaming positions at the state's 10 current casinos,
  • Five new casinos,
  • Video gaming at horse-racing tracks.

The measure is similar to one passed by the House and Senate last year, but it never was sent to Gov. Pat Quinn. He threatened to veto the bill, because it allowed slots at the state fairgrounds and at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Quinn also didn't like the addition of video gaming at tracks.

During the voting, the number of yes votes hit 71 at one point — the number of votes needed to override a veto by the governor — but two legislators changed their "yes" votes to "no" before the official record was taken.

Quinn called gaming a "shiny" distraction earlier this week.

"Sometimes, down here, shiny objects can distract people," Quinn said.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who sponsored the measure, said the legislation would bring much needed money into the state coffers and create jobs at a time when unemployment refuses to drop below 8 percent.

"I think this is much more than a bright, shiny object, I think this is an imperative for state government to move this forward," Lang said.

Quinn threatened to veto Wednesday's legislation.

"As long as I'm governor, I will not support a gambling bill that falls well short of protecting the people of Illinois. It is clear that this gaming bill still needs significant improvement," he said in a written statement.

New casinos would open in Chicago, Danville, Park City, Rockford and a Chicago suburb still to be determined. All those areas suffer unemployment rates much greater than the rest of the state.

Additionally, the legislation gives the Illinois Gaming Board an extra $50 million annually from tax revenue on gambling to monitor the expansion for corruption.

The legislation that passed Wednesday is estimated to bring in $1.2 billion in one-time revenue over the next four years through licensing and other fees, which would be used to pay off the state's $8.5 billion mountain of overdue bills, said Lang.

Lang estimated that the gaming expansion would bring in annual, reoccurring revenue of anywhere between $300 million and $1 billion.

State Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said expanding gaming may bring in more money, but won't cure the state's poor finances.

He also voiced the same worry as existing casinos about the expansion: "cannibalism." The concern is that the new casinos and slots at tracks wouldn't bring in new money to the state, but instead simply would draw current gamblers from existing casinos.

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, was more direct in his opposition, saying gaming is a tax on the poor and should be rejected out of hand.

The legislation now goes to the Senate.

Reporter Andrew Thomason can be reached at andrew.thomason@illinoisstatehousenews.com.

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