Lawmakers considering extra gambling options
By Bob Okon email@example.com March 10, 2013 11:13PM
Harrah’s Casino in Joliet
Updated: April 12, 2013 6:23AM
Plans for casino expansion are getting even bigger during this session of the Illinois Legislature.
A south suburban casino and slot machines at horse race tracks are in the mix again, the two things Joliet officials say would do the most harm to the city’s casino business.
But a state Senate committee approved a measure last week that went farther than the most recent casino expansion proposals. It brought back the idea of slot machines at O’Hare International and Midway airports. Then, it added Internet gambling, which may have been too much.
“I heard that is unsettling some member of the Senate,” Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said of the proposal to legalize Internet gambling.
Something must have slowed down the bill. McGuire said Friday.
“If the proponents had the votes, they would have called for a vote yesterday.”
Instead, the Senate went home with plans to return this week, leaving onlookers and lobbyists in the usual state of wondering what Illinois lawmakers might do next to try to create more tax money by increasing the availability of gambling.
Tom Swoik, executive director for the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said he thinks lawmakers are counting on more money than they are likely to get from casino expansion. But, he added, “This thing is getting bigger than what we’ve ever seen before. So who knows?”
The state is looking for money to patch up worsening fiscal problems.
Gov. Pat Quinn has stood in the way of past plans to expand gambling. But Quinn suggested in his budget speech last week that he would consider gambling expansion with certain ethical protections, using the line, “no loopholes for mobsters.”
All this comes as the state has just started to implement video gambling in neighborhood bars and other places. Joliet and other cities have recently granted liquor licenses to a new gambling venue — storefront gambling parlors that will open in shopping centers near supermarkets so as to draw in female customers that might not gamble in casinos or neighborhood bars. In Joliet, four liquor licenses have been granted to Betty’s Bistro, Penny’s Place and Bonny’s.
Since video gambling started in the fall, casino revenues have fallen in Illlinois.
But Swoik said he found it hard to believe that poker machines at neigborhood taverns have been cutting into the casino business. The casino industry did not oppose legalized video gambling, reasoning that it already had been competing with illegal video gambling.
“I can’t believe it’s made that much difference,” Swoik said. “Those machines have been out there for years.”
Still, the Illinois Gaming Board’s monthly report on casino revenues showed another drop in February compared with year-ago numbers.
Statewide, casino revenues were down 14 percent, or nearly $20 million, from February 2012. All 10 casinos were down.
Hollywood Casino Joliet showed the best year-to-year comparison with its revenues down less than 1 percent. Casino revenues at Harrah’s Joliet were down 21 percent.