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Work continues on casino compromise

October 14, 2011

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It’s a sure bet that gaming expansion will come up during the Illinois Legislature’s fall veto session, but who will win and who will bust is uncertain.

A plan to add five casinos throughout the state, expand the number of places where people can make bets at each casino, and allow video gambling at horse tracks eked out of the Legislature this spring but stalled in the face of opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn.

Quinn has criticized the legislation repeatedly, calling it “top heavy.”

The bill that they have proposed has many, many defects, and it needs to be improved substantially,” Quinn said earlier this week. “I’m going to speak about this later this month, and we’ll lay out some principles that I think ought to be used for the Legislature when it comes to gambling.”

Lawmakers will return Oct. 25 to the state Capitol for the start of the two-week veto session.

State Sen. President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has put a temporary hold on the gaming legislation, preventing it from going to Quinn, who could reject part or all of the package.

From the end of the spring session until now, Quinn and legislators have met to discuss the gaming legislation, said state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who sponsored the gaming package in the House.

Lang said: “We’ve had a lot of conversations, but there’s been no negotiation. The governor’s office is unwilling to negotiate and unwilling to tell us exactly what he wants in a bill.”

Quinn said he is concerned about oversaturation, referring to the 10 current casinos in Illinois.

If you have too many positions and casinos, they hurt each other,” Quinn said.

The possibility of more competition in the gaming market comes at a time when the state’s operating casinos are watching their profits drop.

The Rivers in Des Plaines was the 10th casino to open in Illinois and started operating this summer. Two months later, the closest in-state competitor, the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, saw its lowest profits for August in 16 years, according to a study released this week by the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Unlike Quinn, Lang said competition between casinos isn’t the state’s problem.

Certainly, we’d be worried about cannibalization, but it is not the role or function of Illinois state government to guarantee those 10 riverboat owners a profit,” he said.

Adjusted gross receipts have been falling each year since fiscal 2008, the study said.

The study puts most of the blame for the decline on the 2008 statewide indoor smoking ban, which it said drove gamblers to surrounding states, such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri, where smoking is permitted in casinos.

The four riverboat casinos in the Chicago area saw adjusted gross receipts drop by $472.5 million, or 35.5 percent, between 2007 and 2010, the last year smoking was allowed indoors.

Adjusted gross receipts for Chicago-area casinos in neighboring Indiana, which allows smoking indoors and has more gaming positions, increased by $6.6 million, or 0.6 percent, during the same period, the report said.

This spring, the state House passed a proposal that would have allowed smoking in casinos, bordering states that allow indoor smoking. But the bill died in the state Senate.

The original gaming expansion bill passed the state Senate with 30 votes, the bare minimum for approval, and the House with 65 yes votes, just five more than the bare minimum for passage. To override a governor’s veto, a total of 37 out of 59 votes is needed in the Senate and 71 out of 118 votes in the House.

Because Quinn has not been willing to outline specific changes for the gaming expansion proposal, at least two legislators who voted no to the original expansion would vote to override Quinn’s veto, Lang said.

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