A dormant gambling-expansion plan came to life just long enough to stall in a House committee.
The Executive Committee’s 5-4 vote Monday on Rep. Robert Rita’s plan was one vote shy of the six needed to move it to a floor vote.
The Blue Island Democrat’s long-discussed plan won Senate OK 15 months ago as part of a “grand bargain” to break what was then a 20-month stalemate over the budget. It would authorize six new casinos, including Chicago, and allow slot machines at horse racing tracks.
Rita added several provisions to the measure. They include also allowing table games at race tracks and creating sweepstakes games.
What was heard at the committee was a lot of testimony from opponents who said the expansion contained in the latest proposal will further cannibalize gaming in Illinois which will ultimately hurt revenue. Jay Keller, a representative of Penn National Gaming, which operates casinos in Illinois, said the bill will authorize 22,000 new gaming positions which, added to what Illinois already has, would give the state the equivalent of 52 casinos.
“This bill is a massive expansion and would put Illinois at a level that people would consider (acceptable),” he said.
Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said the state’s 10 existing casinos lost 28 percent of their customer base after the state legalized video gaming terminals.
“These gamers didn’t disappear. They went to the 6,500 neighborhood locations with slots,” Swoik said.
The video poker types opposed the new expansions. The Fairmount Park folks opposed the bill because they couldn’t install slot machines at their track without first coming to an agreement with the nearby Casino Queen in East St. Louis, which essentially gives the Casino Queen folks the upper hand. Lots of folks also grumbled loudly about a surprise provision to legalize “sweepstakes” games.
The only people who seemed happy were track owners outside of the Fairmount folks.
*** UPDATE *** Getting the bill out of committee does not yet equal having the votes to pass it on the floor. Just sayin…
Efforts to drastically expand gaming in Illinois — and create a Chicago casino — will get another chance on Tuesday after falling short of advancing in an Illinois House committee on Memorial Day.
With adjournment of the Illinois General Assembly just days away, the House Executive Committee voted 5-4, one vote shy of advancing the revived measure that has been in the works since last year.
But State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, will call the gaming measure for a vote in committee once again on Tuesday morning. The quick turnaround may mean he garnered enough support to pass it.