The Illinois General Assembly recently passed Senate Bill 744, a controversial proposal designed to dramatically expand gaming in Illinois and pave the way for a Chicago casino.

The bill, which the Legislature passed on May 31, will go before Gov. Quinn, who has yet to say what action he will take.

To shine a light on this legislation, the BGA, in partnership with the Union League Club of Chicago, recently hosted the first major public discussion of the gaming expansion bill. The event centered on a panel discussion featuring two supporters and two opponents of the measure, including the bill’s sponsor, Illinois State Representative Lou Lang (D-16).

Andy Shaw, the BGA president and CEO, moderated the June 29 panel discussion, noting that the event was an important initial step toward informing Illinois residents about this critical issue. In addition, Emily Miller, the BGA’s policy and government affairs coordinator, outlined the content of the bill.

If signed by Gov. Quinn, the bill would increase gaming positions in the state’s racetracks and Riverboat casinos. In addition to Chicago, four other areas would receive casino licenses—Park City, Danville, Rockford and a location in southern Cook County.

But Chicago would feel the biggest impact of the bill’s passage into law.

Indeed, a land-based casino would push Chicago over Philadelphia for the title of largest U.S. city to hold a casino within its limits.

Under the proposed legislation, 4,000 gaming positions—a seat at a table or chair at a slot—would initially be available in Chicago. But according to a BGA analysis, that number could swiftly increase, doubling or even tripling in future years, due to a “use or lose clause.” A Chicago casino could feasibly scoop up unused positions from across the state.

>> Arguments For/Against the Bill

On the panel, Rep. Lang argued that his bill is a catalyst for economic development, claiming that new gaming would generate $1.6 billion in state revenues and 90,000 jobs in the gaming industry. Michael Mini, Director of Government Relations for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, which favors the bill, urged Gov. Quinn to sign the legislation, noting that it would boost Chicago tourism.

Anita Bedell, Executive Director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, and Rev. Phil Blackwell of First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, came out against passing the bill, saying it would result in widespread gaming expansion that will prove socially and economically damaging to Illinois residents.

“If you have local residents gambling and losing money,” Bedell said, “that’s less money they’ll be spending in retail, on cars, on homes on food.”

Rep. Lang countered that Illinois gamblers are already spending dollars elsewhere, crossing state borders to Wisconsin and Indiana. “These social costs will endure and be here whether or not we pass this bill,” he said, “because the people from our city, our county, our community are going elsewhere and they’re still gambling.”

Regulating the expanded gaming business was also a hot-button issue. The bill would create a new regulatory Authority in Chicago, filled with appointees from the Mayor.

Rev. Blackwell expressed concern that the bidding process for the casino is open to corruption. But Rep. Lang insisted that the Illinois Gaming Authority has been ethically sound, and future regulatory bodies will follow the same pathway.

Audience members also had questions for the panel— to learn more, read our FAQ: IL Gaming Expansion Bill.

Rep Lang stressed that he wants Gov. Quinn to sign the bill and make it the law of the land.

However, the governor has three major choices:

  • He can sign Senate Bill 744 into law;
  • He can rewrite and change parts of it and return it to the General Assembly, which must uphold or reject those alterations; or
  • He can “veto” and kill the bill outright.

There is another possible maneuver: Quinn and lawmakers can agree to make changes to Senate Bill 744 in a so-called “trailer” bill, which is then passed and signed into law at the same time Senate Bill 744 is signed into law.

Right now, Gov. Quinn is not tipping his hand and is only saying he wants to get feedback from everyone who has an opinion on the bill.

The BGA’s Shaw has stressed that this gaming issue requires more public discussion, adding that the BGA will continue to push for greater community dialogue and deeper understanding of this controversial issue.