Quinn wants five new casinos — including one in Rockford

By Benjamin Yount
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer has been waiting six years to hear an Illinois governor say his city of more than 32,000 residents should get a casino.

Monday, Oct. 17, “to hear that Gov. (Pat) Quinn, too, supports a casino for Danville is a milestone,” Eisenhauer said.

But Eisenhauer realizes that while Quinn supports a casino for Danville, Quinn also could not support legislation that actually would put one there.

Quinn explained, “We cannot have the massive expansion of gambling included in this bill.”

Legislation passed in the spring session would have opened five new casinos, one each in Chicago, suburban Cook County, Lake County, Danville and Rockford.

The plan also would have allowed horse race track owners to install slot machines at their tracks, and added more tables, slot machines and other games at Illinois’ 11 current riverboat casinos.

I think that’s too much,” the governor said during a news conference in Chicago.

Quinn wants just the five casinos, and more authority given to the Illinois Gaming Board to oversee them. The Gaming Board regulates riverboat gaming now.

The governor will not support slots at the tracks or any kind of gaming at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

Still, Springfield Mayor Mike Huston said he’s not sure the governor’s word is the final word.

Houston said: “The only way a gambling package can go through the Legislature is with downstate support. And with the state fairgrounds included in that package, there is a much better chance of getting that support.”

Houston said his city would not see any tax revenue from slots at the fairgrounds, but adding gaming, year-round, to Springfield would generate new jobs and new tourism.

State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said Quinn needs to figure out if he wants local communities, and in turn the state, to benefit from the dollars new casinos would generate.

One minute he talks about the need for new revenue, now he’s saying he doesn’t want the new dollars,” Bost said of Quinn’s comments Monday.

Bost agrees that many downstate legislators are going to have a hard time voting for a gambling package that benefits Chicago and leaves Illinois’ agricultural economy out of the mix.

Quinn said his plan is good for all of Illinois, because it “promotes a geographic balance.” Chicago would get its long-sought casino, and new riverboats in Danville and Rockford could attract out-of-state gamblers.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, has a casino in his Quad Cities district, and he’s not sure about Quinn’s balance argument.

In Chicago, they’ve got a ratio of 30 people to every gaming position. Here, in the Quad Cities, (it) is more like five or six,” Verschoore said. “The more slots machines, the less play possible (here) at the Casino Rock Island.”

The Quad Cities also would have had a shot to add slot machines at the Quad Cities Downs, but Verschoore said he didn’t like that idea.

But for all the questions surrounding the proposal, the hope of new casinos remains.

Leaders in Winnebago County are thrilled to hear Quinn support a casino for their city of Rockford, said Mike Dunn, regional director of governmental affairs for the county and its city.

We could never figure out what he wanted, but this makes us feel better,” Dunn said.

However, the governor left it up to lawmakers to determine how long it will take to settle on gambling expansion.

But Quinn did issue one mandate: “Unless my principles are followed, there is no way I’ll approve a bill.”

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