More gaming on the way?
By Bob Okon email@example.com January 6, 2011 8:12PM
Visitors play the slot machines at the former Empress Casino in Joliet. | File photo
Updated: January 7, 2011 1:35PM
Proposals to expand gaming keep getting bigger.
Late Thursday the Illinois House was working on legislation that would put slot machines in Chicago airports, adding on to an expansion of gaming approved in December by the state Senate.
One gaming lobbyist calculated that the latest proposed version of Illinois gaming would make one slot machine, video poker device or other form of gambling available for every 110 people over 21 in Illinois.
“It’s just too big,” said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.
Casino operators have resisted the expansion proposals, which would add competition at a time that gaming business is down.
The city of Joliet already has estimated that its share of gaming taxes will drop by $3 million this year because of a new casino scheduled to open in Des Plaines.
Illinois legislators are proposing three more casinos in the Chicago market — one in Chicago itself, another in Lake County and one in the south suburbs. Two more casinos would open outside of the Chicago market in Rockford and Danville.
The prediction is that Illinois could see $1 billion in additional gaming revenue with the expansion.
In Joliet, City Manager Thomas Thanas worries existing revenues will just be shifted around with Joliet losing money to the other casinos that open up.
“We think it will have a substantial impact on reducing the revenue that the city will see,” said Thanas.
In addition to putting gambling at O’Hare and Midway airports, legislators want to add slot machines at Illinois racetracks. Tracks have wanted the so-called racinos for years. Legalized gambling on video poker machines was approved for taverns and clubs in 2009, although regulators have not made that new form of gambling possible yet.
Even if the new casinos and racinos don’t hit the revenue targets set by legislators, the state would see a huge one-time sum estimated at $1.3 billion by charging licensing fees for the new gaming establishments.
One big motivator is the state’s financial crisis, which is increasing the likelihood that legislators will follow through on a gaming expansion plan bigger than any of those concocted in past years when the Illinois budget was in better shape.
Thanas said gaming has always been an “easy target” when legislators have looked for new revenue. But proponents of a big expansion of gambling have never been able to overcome the opposition.
This year, Thanas said, “I think we’ll see that happen.”