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Illinois House Republicans are supposed to be ready to embrace gambling expansion as a way of paying for state construction projects.



Maybe.

Illinois House Republicans are supposed to be ready to embrace gambling expansion as a way of paying for state construction projects.

Maybe.

Several downstate House Republicans said last week they could support expanded gambling, if reluctantly, to pay for badly needed capital projects. However, they said, it has to be the right gambling expansion, and the bill that passed out of the Senate two weeks ago isn’t the right one.

“The bill the Senate sent over, there’s very little support for that,” said Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, a top lieutenant to House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “I don’t think it will pass in its (current) form.”

But Black is not ruling out the idea that some kind of gambling expansion will eventually pass the General Assembly.

“I think a lot of people who really are opposed to gaming cannot come up with another revenue source to do what this can do, so they are stuck,” Black said.

House Republicans, though in the minority, have had a rare degree of power since the Senate narrowly approved a massive gambling expansion to pay for a wide variety of construction projects – ranging from roads, bridges, and schools to civic centers, rail and airport projects, ethanol plants, wastewater and drinking water improvements.

With enough support for the plan from House Republicans, some people think, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, can be pressured into going along with the idea as well.

The expansion bill approved by the Senate calls for a land-based casino in Chicago, two additional riverboats at locations yet to be selected and the addition of 6,000 gaming positions at the state’s nine existing riverboats. In practical terms, the riverboats probably would add thousands of slot machines and other electronic gambling games, which produce more money than table games.

Most lawmakers agree that a casino in Chicago would be very lucrative, and many support the idea in concept. But some downstate Republicans said the way a Chicago casino is handled in the Senate bill is unacceptable to them.

In particular, they dislike the idea that a Chicago casino would not be under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Gaming Board. Instead, a separate board appointed by Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Rod Blagojevich would oversee the Chicago operation. A private company would operate the casino, but it would be owned by the city.

“I don’t think we’re going to have Chicago owning that license,” said Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg. “I’m certainly not going to support that.”

“If it is regulated by a separate board, that’s a deal-killer,” said Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth.

There’s also the size of the expansion.

“Would I vote for a more limited expansion?” Mitchell said. “I at least would entertain that as a revenue source.”

“I think three (new casinos) is way too many,” said Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria. “To expand it to that extent, I think somebody ought to make a case for that.”

The case that’s being made is that the state desperately needs a new construction program. Combined with federal and local money, the entire capital program is estimated to total $25 billion. However, if the gambling package is scaled back, fewer projects can be completed.

When the Senate passed the gambling bill, it also passed a capital projects bill.

In some cases, the bill said only that a certain amount of money would be set aside for certain types of projects, like roads. In other cases, the bill identified specific projects to be funded. Senate Republicans got written promises from Blagojevich to support certain projects they want.

The Blagojevich administration has used projects contained in that bill to trumpet the importance of a capital bill. Officials have held news conferences around the state to highlighting projects in specific areas.

But the bill was drafted without input from House members.

“All the trumpeting of those capital project throughout the state, as far as our caucus is concerned, is meaningless,” Leitch said. “Many might be included (in a final deal), but the point is Leader Cross has made it very clear all of that would have to be restarted.”

What gets included on that list could also determine who votes for a gambling bill.

“Gambling is not my first choice, but if it is the only choice and if things are included that I feel are needed for my district, I will certainly consider it,” said Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson. “I want the assurance, guarantee, whatever it takes, that those projects will be funded.”

That’s the peril facing negotiators if a gaming/capital bill is going to become a reality. Changing the rules for a Chicago casino might bring some lawmakers on board, but it could cost the support of others. Trying to meet the demands of lawmakers for projects in their districts will also be difficult, even more so if the gaming expansion is cut and less money is available.

“I think that while (the Senate bill) is a good start, I don’t think that will be the final product,” Cross said. “It all goes back to the bottom line -- we all need to get into a room and work something out and quit the jockeying back and forth.”

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.

 

RIVERBOAT CASINOS IN OPERATION IN ILLINOIS


  Here's a list of the riverboat casinos currently operating in Illinois, their admissions, adjusted gross receipts and the amount of money they generated for the state during the budget year ending June 30, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

 

 

  RIVERBOAT             ADMISSIONS      ADJUSTED RECEIPTS    STATE REVENUE

 

  Elgin                 2,531,559       $436.1 million       $203.1 million

 

  Joliet Harrah's       2,816,788       $364.6 million       $134.5 million

 

  Joliet Empress        2,164,586       $252.6 million       $90.3 million

 

  Aurora                1,860,184       $272.6 million       $91.2 million

 

  East St. Louis        2,024,667       $172.1 million       $52.5 million

 

  Metropolis            1,412,307       $166.7 million       $47.8 million

 

  East Peoria           1,342,423       $130.3 million       $45.7 million

 

  Alton                 1,455,514       $125.4 million       $33.9 million

 

  Rock Island             649,612       $37.6 million        $5.5 million

 

 

  A tenth license is authorized by the state, but it is not currently in use.