Illinois Senate Approves Casino Expansion But “Grand Bargain” is Proving a Hard Bargain

Posted on: March 6, 2017, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: March 6, 2017, 11:27h.

The Illinois Senate approved a bill last week that would authorize six new land-based casinos in the state, however the proposal is stuck in limbo until lawmakers agree on a slew of other economy-boosting bills to go along with it.

 Illinois State Senator Link’s casino legislation approved in Senate
Illinois State Senator Terry Link is the driving force behind major casino expansion legislation approved by the Senate last week. However, unless lawmakers agree on the rest of the Grand Bargain it’s going nowhere fast. (Image: senatorlink.com)

This is Illinois’ so-called “Grand Bargain,” a legislative package which hopes to bring an end to its budget impasse and institute a set of policies geared towards fixing its financial mess.

The two-year stand-off on spending between the Democratic-controlled House and the state’s Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, is the longest any state has gone without a spending plan in almost a century.

It’s likely to on a bit longer, too, because, last Wednesday, much of the sprawling compromise plan was pulled in the Senate, with Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) accusing Rauner of “injecting himself into the proceedings” and hijacking the bi-partisan deal, which had been months in the making.

War on Illinois

But the proposed casino expansion, if enacted, would be transformational for Illinois’ gambling sector, ushering in a completely new era of casinos on dry land. Currently, casino gaming is limited to riverboats along Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, a nod to the state’s colorful 19th Century gambling history.  

The bill would permit, for the first time, a casino in Chicago itself, the Windy City having previously been off limits due to competition with local racetracks.

Five other regions have also been earmarked for casinos, at yet-to-be-determined locations in Lake County, Rockford, Danville, Cook County, and Williamson County.

Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said last week Illinois is losing $1.6 billion in gambling revenue because casino expansion in neighboring states is drawing residents and their hard-earned dough across the state line.

“We’re surrounded by five states that have declared war on Illinois and they’re building casinos on our borders,” he said.

Money to Be Made

According to Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), the driving force behind legislation, research suggests that the new casinos would bring the state nearly $1 billion in set-up fees alone. The Chicago property, and those in its suburbs, would pay a license fee of $100,000 plus $30,000 per gambling position; i.e, for each slot machine or table game seat.

“The doors would be open for conventions, which is something that southern Illinois does not have,” added Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg).

However, others pointed out that expansion would have a detrimental impact on

existing riverboat casinos, which currently give 50 percent of their revenues to the state, which may mean actual tax revenues figures may not be quite as pretty as have projected.

The riverboats, however, would be permitted to house 400 more slot machines as compensation, while the bill would also authorize slots at four horse racing tracks, as well as at Chicago airports.