Gov. Pat Quinn's office touted a new report Monday that concludes Illinois wouldn't get much extra money through a massive expansion of gambling, a finding that seems to support the governor's call for a more restrained approach.
The report says an initial gambling expansion bill passed by lawmakers would bring in about $160 million in new annual gaming revenue for the state and not the extra $1 billion they say some have claimed. That bill was never sent to Quinn, who threatened to veto it because it included slots at racetracks, which he opposes. It did include five new casinos, including the first one in Chicago. Illinois currently has 10 casinos.
Chicago also would benefit more from gambling expansion if casino-style gambling with slot machines at race tracks isn't allowed, said a summary of the report by the New Orleans-based Innovation Group.
"A lot of these racetracks with casinos are going to be on top of other casinos. They will dilute the amount of gaming, so that will cause lower amounts for other casinos," said Jack Lavin, Quinn's chief of staff.
The Illinois horse-racing industry has said it needs slots at tracks to survive and compete with other states.
The report studied not only the original gambling bill also two other scenarios that excluded slots at tracks and had fewer gaming positions at the casinos. Quinn's office said the report was commissioned in September and cost less than $20,000.
Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, a sponsor of the gambling expansion measure, said estimates can be low when it comes to gaming revenues. But even if the governor's report underestimates how much money a gambling expansion would bring in, it's still new money for the state, even if it's less than proponents have suggested.
"Who else is proposing $160 million new dollars to the state of Illinois," Lang said, adding that opening casinos would also create new jobs.
Lang said he's unsure whether lawmakers will try again to advance a gambling expansion bill when they return to Springfield on Nov. 29. Lawmakers are due back in session to try to hash out a tax incentive deal to try to keep several big companies that are threatening to leave the state and at the same time offer broader tax relief to Illinoisans.
If gambling does some up, Lang said he feels confident he has the votes to pass a bill despite failing earlier this month to pass an improved version of the original expansion bill that was never sent to Quinn.
Lang said he remains hopeful that Quinn, who has laid out a framework for the kind of gambling bill he might accept, will sit down and negotiate with lawmakers.
"My door is open, my phone rings, I'm prepared to meet, I'm prepared to do it right," he said.
Lavin said the new study gives the sides a place to start in negotiations.
"We need to look at the whole picture of what are the real numbers," he said.