Tuesday February 11 ,2014 : NEW LAND CASINOS AND ONLINE GAMBLING FOR ILLINOIS?
Lawmakers gearing up for another run at a controversial issue.
Illinois Rep. Lou Lang, an assistant majority leader in the state House, says there's a good chance this year that gambling expansion proposals that include online gambling legalization, five new land casinos and slot machines at racetracks and airports could again be launched in 2014 despite previous failures over the past two years.
Earlier attempts have failed due to time constraints and governor Pat Quinn's opposition. Lawmakers have lined up almost identical legalization this year, but circumstances are different, says Lang.
It's an election year, but lawmakers are faced with a number of difficult tax and budget issues, he claims.
"I believe there's an opportunity to pass a bill that the governor will sign," Lang said this week, adding that it was important to get the timing right on such a sensitive issue in an election year.
Lang points out that important pensions reform laws that Gov. Quinn had wanted before he would consider any expansion of gambling in the state, have now been passed, clearing the way for the governor to look more positively at possibilities rather than veto them.
The need for additional tax revenues would be an important consideration, Lang opined; 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. Gambling expansion would provide an estimated $400 million to $1 billion a year in revenue to support this.
This year’s bill is being pushed by Democratic state Rep. Bob Rita, and calls for new land casinos in Rockford, Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County in addition to Chicago.
It also proposes allowing current and future casino licensees to apply for an online gambling licence and add slot machines at state horse-racing tracks and the O'Hare and Midway international airports.
Rita, who has been conducting a series of public hearings around the state, says the legalization can be sufficiently flexible to "address regional concerns," a compromise with some regions that are unhappy with slots at racetracks due to fears that this may impact land casino tax revenues.
"I think the time's right," Rep. Rita said this week. "It's not only revenue for the state, its revenue for all of these regions."
However, Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Quinn, cautioned that the governor would only support expanded gambling if it included ethical oversight and he "…will never compromise when it comes to keeping corruption out of the gaming industry."
Republican supporters of the new drive say that the Democrat-controlled administration and legislature may be more tolerant of gambling expansion because budgets have to be met and revenue is needed.
The state Legislature's spring session closes at the end of May, and observers expect plenty of action as the new run at expansion is launched, in all likelihood facing some fierce opposition amid the anxieties of an election year in which the governor himself is up for re-election.