After failing to win enough support the past two years, proponents of expanded gambling in Illinois see it having better chances this year, with other issues out of the way and the state in dire need of cash.
The legislation, which would establish five new casinos — including one in Danville — and authorize slot machines at racetracks and airports, went out with a whimper last May as the session adjourned. Lawmakers discussed the lengthy, complex proposal extensively but never called it for a vote.
So far, advocates are pushing almost identical legislation this year, but circumstances are different. It's an election year, but lawmakers must deal with a number of difficult tax and budget issues, even as they try again to overcome the ethical concerns raised by Gov. Pat Quinn.
"I believe there's an opportunity to pass a bill that the governor will sign," said state Rep. Lou Lang, an assistant House majority leader and sponsor of previous gambling legislation. "Having said that, it's a timing issue. There's an election year, and gaming is a difficult issue at best."
Much has changed in recent months, including the passage of pension reform legislation, which Gov. Pat Quinn had said must be accomplished before he'd consider signing a gambling expansion proposal. Quinn has vetoed two previous gaming bills passed by the Legislature.
In addition, lawmakers have been looking for new sources of funding as they debate whether to extend the state's income tax increase, which is scheduled to roll back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent next January. Sponsors say gambling expansion would provide an estimated $400 million to $1 billion a year in revenue.
"There's no doubt we need some revenue," said Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic State Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island, calls for adding casinos in Rockford, Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County in addition to Chicago. It also would allow current and future casino licensees to apply for an online gambling license and add slot machines at the state's horse-racing tracks and O'Hare and Midway international airports. The bulk of revenue from brick-and-mortar gambling would go toward school funding.