SPRINGFIELD -- After making concessions to Republicans, the Illinois House Executive Committee sent a mammoth gambling package to the House floor on Wednesday. 

SPRINGFIELD -- After making concessions to Republicans, the Illinois House Executive Committee sent a mammoth gambling package to the House floor on Wednesday.


The measure cleared the committee on a bipartisan 8-3 vote, an exception to House Republicans’ steadfast opposition to nearly all major legislation being advanced by the Democratic majority in the closing days of this General Assembly.


The bill would create a land-based, city-owned casino in Chicago and four other new casinos – one in Rockford, one Park City in Lake County, one in Danville and a south suburban Cook County casino whose location would be determined by the Illinois Gaming Board.


The casino in Chicago would be operated by a private contractor.


 


GOP adds support


House Republicans voted for the bill after Democrats agreed to divert more of the one-time revenue from licensing fees to paying down the state’s backlog of bills.


“It was very important that we move for a greater portion of … those potential dollars going to pay down our debt,” said Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, the committee’s ranking Republican. Brady said he wouldn’t normally vote for expanding gambling, but did so because social service providers who are waiting for state payments could get their money faster.


The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, estimated that the state would realize $1.3 billion in one-time licensing fees. Seventy-five percent, or roughly $900 million, would be put toward the state’s $5 billion-plus in unpaid bills. The remainder would go toward projects passed in the 2009 capital construction bill.


Lang said the casinos would bring in $1 billion in annual revenue for the state.


 


Riverboat owner opposition


The owners of the state’s existing riverboat casinos opposed the bill even though they will be allowed to add gaming positions at their casinos.


“This monumental expansion is like saying homes have lost 32 percent of their value in the last three years. And there are less people out there in the position of buying a home. So let’s build three times as many homes as we have now in the hopes that’ll help the economy,” said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. “It just doesn’t make sense.”


Lang’s version also would allow slot machines at Chicago airports – although those slot machines would have to be placed behind the Transportation Security Administration checkpoints so O’Hare and Midway airports don’t become gambling destinations.


That provision still didn’t please Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol & Addiction Problems.


 


Slots at airports, racetracks


“There are millions of people that go through those airports in Chicago with children,” Bedell said. “They already put kiosks with alcohol 24 hours a day there. They don’t need slot machines to go with it.”


The horse-racing industry would also benefit by being able to pay out larger purses at racetracks as a result of revenue from slot machines at the tracks, said Robert Molaro, a lobbyist for the industry. The hope is that Illinois will become competitive with other states with so-called racinos, whose purses are double and triple what Illinois tracks offer.


“This is the last breath for our industry,” Molaro said.


The bill still has a long way to go before it reaches the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who called it top-heavy during the legislature’s veto session. The bill could get a floor vote today in the House, but even if it passes there, it will have to go back to the Senate to adopt the House changes.


Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said he would go along with the changes.


“I questioned some of the changes, but I can live with all of them,” Link said.


Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523.


 


Other provisions


-- East Peoria casino could move within 10 miles of its current location.


-- Illinois Gaming Board could not issue new licenses until the 2,000 video gaming positions authorized by the General Assembly in 2009 are operating. Licenses for those terminals, the revenue of which is supposed to support the state’s capital construction program, have not been issued.


-- A $2 million renovation tax credit would be created for use by all riverboat casinos.


-- To allay concerns of existing casino owners about competition from the new casinos, table games would be taxed at a lower rate and the state would provide a 5 percent credit against existing casinos’ adjusted gross revenues for 10 years.


-- Racetracks could have slot machines and video gaming, but not table games.


-- Those with licenses could operate from a temporary facility during construction or renovation of a permanent site. “We want to get the money flowing,” said sponsor Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.


-- Gambling facilities would have meet energy-efficiency standards.