Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Syverson: Now’s the time to push gaming expansion

By Scot Bertram 
Illinois News Network 

One state lawmaker says now is the time for Illinois to push forward on gaming expansion.

State Senator Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, says a bill that would allow for up to six new casinos in the state already has passed the Senate and it’s simply waiting for the House to weigh in.

“We just need the speaker to allow a vote in the House,” Syverson said. “The last two years he hasn’t allowed his members to vote on it. But if he would allow a vote, this thing would pass and we could be up and running.”

Senate Bill 7 would permit the creation of new casinos in Rockford, Chicago, south suburban Cook County, northern Lake County, Danville and Williamson County. Syverson says it’s no coincidence those are mostly border communities.

“If you go to an Indiana casino, right over the border, you’ll see 95 percent of the license plates are all Illinois plates,” Syverson said. “Last year, a little over $1.5 billion left Illinois and went to our five surrounding states for gaming. Other states are building casinos right on the border of Illinois and they’re marketing and attracting Illinois people that go there and spend their money.”

Syverson represents the 35th district in northern Illinois, along the Wisconsin border. He’s also worried about a proposed mega-casino just over the state line in Beloit that is getting closer to becoming a reality.

“We’re talking about a couple hundred yards over the border, building the largest casino in the Midwest,” Syverson said. “Their casino would have a water park, they would have a convention center, they would have a hotel, they would have a concert venue. It is a concern. It would devastate [tourism in] northern Illinois.”

Syverson has heard concerns from opponents about gaming reaching a “saturation point” in Illinois, but he argues this bill would not act to cannibalize existing state facilities.

“Those people who aren’t big proponents of gaming [have to ask], do you want it over the border where they’ll get the revenue and the money and we’ll be left with the problems associated with it but no benefits? Or, do we fight to try to get our own as a way to block that?”

The former Clock Tower Resort location on East State Street has been pegged as the likely potential landing spot for a new Rockford casino, given its location adjacent to I-90.

Ringland-Johnson Construction owner and CEO Brent Johnson, along with a group of investors, purchased the Clock Tower in May 2017 for $3.6 million. His group has asked the city for assistance in securing federal and state funds to renovate the location.

SB7 passed the upper house of the legislature with a 31-26 vote last March. It was originally introduced as part of the so-called “Grand Bargain,” a series of 10 Senate bills that were meant to be a solution to the state’s two-year budget impasse which was ended in July.

However, the bill stalled in the House and a budget deal was ultimately reached without portions of the Grand Bargain, including the casino bill.

SB7 would also allow four horse tracks in the state to add gambling machines, and permit O’Hare and Midway airports to install gambling machines in terminals.

A new Rockford casino would not come cheap. Aside from the construction of a facility itself, Illinois casinos pay a flat $100,000 fee and $30,000 per gambling station – that’s per seat at a table and in front of each slot machine – meaning a license would likely come with a more than a half-billion-dollar fee.

The planned Beloit casino project was announced with a $405 million price tag.

According to a Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability report, Illinois received more than $1.3 billion in tax revenue from the gaming industry last year, up slightly from 2016. An expansion also could be a boost for some local government coffers.

“Every time Chicago gets into financial trouble, they make all of us bail them out,” Syverson said. “Having their own casino would be about half-a-billion dollars in revenue to the city. That’s money that they don’t have to take from us. And it will help them to attract more conventions and keep more money in Chicago. There’s really benefits that go statewide from getting this thing done.”

With staff reports.

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