Illinois Gambling Expansion Bill Could Mean Huge Chicago Casino

A casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Slot machines at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Wayne Parry / AP Photo
A casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Slot machines at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Wayne Parry / AP Photo

Illinois Gambling Expansion Bill Could Mean Huge Chicago Casino

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A massive gambling expansion package surfaced in Springfield Friday that could create one of the country’s largest casinos in Chicago, allow slot machines at the city’s two airports and permit sports wagering statewide.

The 716-page bill sponsored by state Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, appeared poised for a fast-track through both chambers of the legislature, making for a potentially dramatic capstone to the spring legislative session.

Key financial details surrounding the package weren’t entirely clear, including how much in annual revenues it might yield for the state or for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Lightfoot and her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, have been hoping Chicago casino revenue could bolster the city’s massively underfunded pensions.

The legislation would authorize casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs, Waukegan, Rockford, Danville and Williamson County in far southern Illinois.

The new casinos, including in Chicago, would be privately owned, which is a departure from past gambling-expansion efforts in which previous Chicago mayors sought city ownership. The Illinois Gaming Board would have oversight over the new facilities.

Chicago and an assortment of labor unions formally expressed support for the package. Opposition came from the trade association representing the state’s existing casinos, a statewide anti-gambling organization and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

A briefing document provided by Rita’s office estimated the Chicago casino could generate $120 million, but it wasn’t outlined whether that figure represented one-time licensing fees or recurring taxes.

The city, state and the license owner for a Chicago casino would split revenues equally under the bill, and all state revenues generated would be allocated for infrastructure needs.

Sports wagering, which has been one of Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s spring-time priorities, also would be permitted at casinos, racetracks and sports venues under oversight from the Illinois Gaming Board.

Online and lottery sports wagering also would be permitted by the legislation, and wagering on Illinois collegiate athletics would be prohibited.

Owners of existing video gambling terminals across the state would face higher state taxes under the bill. The existing 30 percent tax rate would grow to 34 percent over two years.

And beyond the allowance for slot machines at both O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport, the legislation permits new gambling positions at racetracks.

State spending on compulsive gambling programs also would grow. About $800,000 is spent now on problem gamblers. The legislation would boost that total to $6.8 million.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow them @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.