The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 14, 2012

Casino talks expected to resume as legislators return


DANVILLE — Legislators return to Springfield next week, and gambling expansion is again expected to be a topic of discussion.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, and Sen. Terry Link, both sponsors of the gambling expansion bill, are working with other legislators, Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff, horse racing and casino officials to come up with a bill that’s agreeable to everyone.

Eisenhauer sees the issue coming back before legislators during late April and into May.

Eisenhauer plans to return to Springfield to lobby for the bill the last week of this month and next month.

He’s again working with the Illinois Municipal League to set up office space there.

According to a Peoria Journal Star article, those involved in negotiations over gambling laws in Illinois believe some sort of expansion will be debated again this spring in the General Assembly.

The form remains uncertain.

Lang recently said discussions among the interested parties — legislators, casinos, racetracks and the governor’s office — have progressed slowly.

“I don’t see the end in sight, and we might find another way to get to the end,” Lang said.

In the Peoria Journal Star article, he outlined three possible approaches to gambling expansion:

--Senate Bill 744 still could be sent to Quinn, Lang said.

Both houses of the Legislature approved the bill last spring, but it never was sent to Quinn because he threatened to veto major provisions of it. The bill did not pass with enough votes to override a veto.

SB 744 would add five new casinos, including one in Danville, as well as put slot machines at horseracing tracks and airports and allow nine-month-per-year harness racing and slots at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Quinn is against putting slot machines at racetracks at the fairgrounds, which he argues would destroy the family-friendly nature of the venue.

--Lawmakers could approve SB 1849, which was supposed to address some of Quinn’s issues with the previous legislation. The proposal allows slot machines to be installed at racetracks but not at the state fairgrounds.

Although five new casinos would be added, the number of new gambling positions at existing casinos would be reduced, which addresses the governor’s concern about an overabundance of gambling in Illinois.

The scaled-back bill was defeated in the Illinois House in November.

--An entirely new bill could be drafted, but Lang would not speculate on how it would be different from the other proposals or how it would win Quinn’s approval.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor supports a “small and moderate expansion” of gambling in Illinois. She noted that SB 744 also would put slot machines at airports, according to the Peoria Journal Star.

“It’s not going to be good for Illinois to have wide-open gaming with a casino on every corner,” Anderson said.

The proposed expansion includes putting a land-based casino in Chicago and new riverboats in Danville, Rockford, near Waukegan and in southern Cook County.

The most recent annual report said Illinois casinos took in $1.4 billion in 2011, a 7.5 percent increase from 2010.

Projections indicate a casino here would generate about 1,200 new jobs and $5 million to $8 million a year in tax revenue for the city. Total economic impact would increase with new restaurants and other development.