Illinois Gambling Expansion Bill Moves Forward, but Without a Casino in Springfield

Posted on: May 29, 2017, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: May 29, 2017, 12:50h.

It’s looking more and more likely that the state of Illinois will approve a measure to allow non-riverboat casinos in the Land of Lincoln. But it also looks like they will do so without Springfield, the state capital, included among the list of future gambling destinations.

Springfield Illinois casino Abraham Lincoln
Springfield, Illinois, President Abraham Lincoln’s final resting place, won’t likely be seeing gamblers rubbing his nose for good luck anytime soon. (Image: Kerri Westenburg/Star Tribune)

Senate Bill 7 passed the Illinois Senate 33-24 last week. The measure calls for the authorization of five land-based casinos in Illinois, designating Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Lake County, and South Chicago as approved locations for new gambling venues.

Upon the Senate bill’s arrival in the House, State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) sought to add the state capital to the mix. But in the end, despite working overtime on Sunday, the House Executive Committee decided not to complicate the issue by adding Butler’s hometown at the last minute.

Springfield is the largest city in central Illinois, and the sixth most populous in the state, with a population of less than 120,000.

Expanding the Expansion?

Springfield civic leaders supported Butler’s efforts. Along with Mayor Jim Langfelder, eight of the city’s 10 aldermen jointly penned a letter to the state House, Senate, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, expressing enthusiasm for their state representative’s idea.

Local officials said the city’s tepid economy and diminishing property values were a major concern that a casino could help address.

“The authorization of a casino license for the city of Springfield will hopefully reverse the loss of jobs and the erosion of our tax base over the last 20-plus years,” the council wrote.

Springfield estimated that a casino would generate $100 million in new tax revenue for the city each year. But now, those funds look unlikely to materialize, if only because it was too late in the lawmaking process.

“It’s something I’d like to see considered, but obviously this was something that came up pretty late in the game,” Butler told The State Journal-Register.

The Illinois General Assembly is set to adjourn its spring session on Wednesday. If the House fails to pass SB 7 before then, it would require a three-fourths majority vote during a special session, instead of simply a majority.

Penny for Your Slots

The home state of Abraham Lincoln seems ready to embrace gambling expansion. Current law restricts casino betting to riverboats, and lawmakers believe that has limited the state’s ability to compete with casino resort destinations in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Should the House pass the measure approved by the Senate, and Gov. Rauner signs off on the bill as expected, Illinois stands to reap significant rewards.

Each commercial casino operator that receives a license would be required to make a one-time payment of $50 million to the state. They would then pay a 16 percent tax on their table game revenue, and 20 percent on slots.

The state currently owes $14 billion in unpaid bills, a debt that SB 7 hopes to help alleviate, if it can pass the House before this year’s legislative session closes.