Gambling Expansion Bill Busts At Illinois Statehouse

State Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) testifies on a gambling expansion measure at a House committee hearing on May 28.

State Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) testifies on a gambling expansion measure at a House committee hearing on May 28.

Lee Milner/for NPR Illinois

Legislation allowing a major expansion of gambling in Illinois failed on Monday. It’s something lawmakers have been working on for years, as an effort to raise money for state and local governments.

The plan was to open six new riverboat casinos in Chicago, parts of the suburbs, Rockford, and Danville. It also would have expanded horse racing, and was aimed at keeping small video gambling parlors from “taking over” strip malls.

At a House committee hearing, Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) pleaded with lawmakers to vote yes. He said expanding gambling would be a win-win "for everyone."

“[To] those who have a little bit of a problem, suck it up because you’re gonna still make money in this industry and you know you are,” Link retorted at the measure's opponents.

One of those opponents was Dan Clausner of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association. He told the committee more riverboat gambling would hurt the many small businesses that offer video gambling.

“They’re just marginally making it," Clausner said of those businesses. "If we were to expand with all this gaming, the likelihood is that some of the terminal operators may have to withdraw those machines, and that might put some smaller, independent restaurants and taverns out of business.”

Other opponents called it “cannibalistic,” saying any gambling expansion would be self-defeating. The measure needed six votes to advance; it got five. But supporters could try again at any time. Its sponsor, Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), says he’ll keep working to pass it.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer was one of several people who testified yesterday in favor of the bill. Eisenhauer told the committee that his city needs jobs that a casino would bring.

“This is about six to seven-hundred temporary jobs during the construction phase," Eisenhauer said. "This is about 650 permanent jobs in a community that is economically stagnant.”

Eisenhauer also said a casino would bring between five and eight million dollars per year in additional revenue to Danville.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio