Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed a gambling package that will establish a huge casino in Chicago, as well as five smaller regional casinos in the southern suburbs. It’s a feat lawmakers and a succession of Chicago mayors have been trying to pull off unsuccessfully for years.
Part of a broader spending package that earmarks billions for investment in infrastructure, the newly enacted legislation will legalize land-based and mobile sports betting, while increasing the number of video gambling machines, as well as the maximum bet on the machines.
In all, the number of gambling “positions” — literally, seats where you can gamble inside a casino, bar, or racino — will grow from almost 44,000 to nearly 80,000, leading local media to declare the state will become “the gambling capital of the Midwest.”
Illinois could end up with a gambling sector three times the size of any of its neighbors. The Chicago casino alone will contain up to 4,000 gambling positions — three times more than any of the state’s ten existing casinos — most of which will see their maximum number of positions jump from 1,200 to 2,000.
“Together we passed the largest, most robust capital plan in this state’s history,” Pritzker said of the capital plan, dubbed “Rebuild Illinois.”
We’re investing $45 billion over six years to fix what’s broken and repair what’s needed,” he added.
The state is expected to reap $2 billion in one-off licensing fees, and $400 million per year once the expanded gambling market matures. Supporters say the new casinos will create thousands of temporary construction jobs, while the Chicago property alone will generate an estimated 4,000 permanent jobs.
Thousands more people will be employed at the regional casinos, which will be located in Waukegan, Rockford, Danville, Downstate Williamson County, and Cook County. Two of these will be new properties to be built from the ground up. The other three are the states’ existing three racetracks, which will be permitted to upgrade to full-scale casino operations.
Naturally, all this gambling expansion is not everyone’s cup of tea. The legislation was pushed through despite objections from church groups and others.
“While the governor and legislators are celebrating the signing of the bill, a large part of the funds for new buildings will come from Illinois residents losing their money in video gambling machines, betting on sports, gambling at stadiums and on cell phones and at more casinos,” Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems told The Chicago Sun-Times.
“This is a terrible way to raise money,” she added.
Bedell has an unlikely ally in the form of Illinois Casino Gaming Association (ICGA), which has expressed skepticism over projected revenues and has concerns that the sudden drastic increase in gambling positions will lead to saturation in an already crowded market.
“This is a bill that will grow the number of gambling positions, but it’s not going to increase the number of gamblers,” ICGA director Tom Swoik told Propublica Illinois. “This state has not been business-friendly to the casinos from the beginning, and this bill doesn’t help that.”