By Ray Long, Rafael Guerrero and Bill Ruthhart
4:44 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
SPRINGFIELD --- A renewed push to greatly expand gambling in Illinois surfaced today, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel threw his weight behind a plan the state Senate quickly approved.
Like two previous bills that Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed, the latest bill would add five casinos, including one in Chicago, and allow betting games at horse-racing tracks, and Midway and O'Hare airports.
The bill, crafted following a stormy hearing last month with the state Gaming Board's chairman, also includes new provisions to ban campaign contributions from owners of casinos, video poker and tracks--among ethics proposals the governor has demanded.
Removed was a controversial proposal to allow Internet gambling in Illinois, a provision supported by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
At the request of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the proceeds from a Chicago casino would go toward what the mayor called “building 21st Century schools for the children of Chicago." The mayor released a video aimed at showing what can be done with Chicago schools and to "see all the potential."
Emanuel today was asked about the chances for a casino bill passing before the session ends this month. Emanuel didn’t offer a prognostication, instead framing the issue as being about improving Chicago’s schools. Emanuel is in the middle of a controversial school closing plan.
“I’m driven by the fact that a Chicago casino is the only casino in this state that will be totally dedicated for our children. All the proceeds to the city will go to building 21st Century schools. As you know, I released a video today showing the state Senate and to the House what the 21st Century schools look, so our children have computer labs, so our children have new libraries, they have a new building. There’s 13 other casinos in the state. The bulk of the proceeds go to private investors. That’s their choice,” Emanuel said.
Along with Chicago, other casinos would be placed in Rockford; Danville; a Lake County site in Park City, Waukegan or North Chicago; and Chicago's south suburbs.
The proposal moved to the full Senate on a 12-3 vote of the Executive Committee, then quickly got out of the Senate on a 32-20 vote, with another senator voting present. The bill needed 30 votes to pass. It now goes to the House.
Money would be distributed among depressed communities, a request of black legislators; a Latino community development fund, the state fairgrounds, compulsive gambling, and funds for quarter horse purses and maintenance of botanic gardens. Additional money would go toward a state education fund.
Sponsoring Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, cited new estimates that the legislation could generate $1.2 billion in one-time revenues and more than $250 million annually.
Link emphasized that the latest version of the bill gave the Illinois Gaming Board the final word over the authority overseeing Chicago casino. The question of whether that was clear in a prior version became a fiery point of contention between Link and Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe.
"The ultimate authority is the Gaming Board on every facility in the state, including the city of Chicago," Link said.
The new proposal also eliminated a provision that would have tossed the current Gaming Board out of office.
But Anita Bedell, an anti-casino lobbyist, maintained the bill contained many loopholes and charged the proposal represented a major expansion of gambling.
One provision she pointed out would allow new and existing riverboat casinos to increase their number of positions from 1,200 to 1,600. Boats that want to acquire any unused positions could acquire a maximum of 2,000.
But Tom Swoik, who represents several riverboat casinos, said the current boat owners have "very little interest" in purchasing new positions. He also contended estimates of how much money would be raised by the changes is high.
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