Casino Expansion Bill Passes Illinois Senate
A casino expansion bill that has been a hot topic in Illinois in recent months has passed the state Senate, though whether or not the state’s governor, Democrat Pat Quinn, will sign the legislation into law remains to be seen. Governor Quinn has not been a supporter of gambling expansion in the past, and has said repeatedly that for the time being, his focus remains centered on the state’s $100 billion pension crisis.
The measure that passed rapidly through the Illinois Senate this week is not so different from two bills that Quinn has vetoed in the past, in that it would put five new land-based casinos in Illinois, including one in Chicago, in addition to allowing slots machines in O’Hare and Midway airports and at racetracks.
Back in early March, Quinn vetoed a similar bill after it was held up from reaching his desk for nearly two years due to parliamentary maneuvering designed to buy time for lawmakers to strike a deal with the Governor, something that clearly did not happen. What this bill does not have, as of last week, is an Internet gambling provision that was stripped from the legislation as a means of placating both racetrack interests and the Governor.
Movement on the bill appeared to speed up after first-term Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a major proponent of the Chicago casino, released a video via his office’s YouTube channel showing what he intends to do with the potential casino revenue. The mayor wants to use the casino money to better Chicago’s ailing public school system, which is facing a major budget shortfall as well as the wrath of parents and neighbors due to its plan to close fifty-four schools in the city, the nation’s third-largest.
Speaking after the release of his video, Mayor Emanuel said, “I’m driven by the fact that a Chicago casino is the only casino in this state that will be totally dedicated for our children. All the proceeds to the city will go to building 21st Century schools.”
“As you know, I released a video today showing the state Senate and to the House what the 21st Century schools look [like], so our children have computer labs, so our children have new libraries, they have a new building. There’s 13 other casinos in the state. The bulk of the proceeds go to private investors. That’s their choice,” the mayor went on.
Mayor Emanuel’s video in support of the casino project can be found here.
The prospect of Governor Quinn signing the casino bill into law no doubt has Indiana public officials shaking in their boots. Already facing pressures due to casino expansion in nearby Ohio, Indiana is looking at losing revenue it has come to rely heavily upon ever since it became one of the first states to roll out casino gambling, way back in 1995. Indiana casinos located just over the border from the city of Chicago in Gary and Hammond have long depended on a steady stream of patrons from Illinois, something that could slow to a trickle if a closer, more convenient Chicago casino becomes an option.
A few possible locations for the Chicago casino have been proposed, among them the state-owned Thompson Center near one of the city’s busiest transit hubs at the intersection of Clark and Lake Streets downtown and the abandoned former Michael Reese Hospital campus south of the Loop, not far from McCormick place, the country’s largest convention center. Both sites would present challenges.
The Thompson Center, for example, is in dire need of costly building renovations, whereas the Michael Reese property is environmentally polluted. Neighbors of Michael Reese have also expressed displeasure at the casino idea, which would share the plot of land with President Obama’s library as well as hotel and event space according to a plan proposed last month by notable architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
In addition to the new Chicago casino, the casino expansion law would allow for properties to be built in Danville, Rockford, in either Waukegan, Park City, or North Chicago in Lake County, as well as one in Chicago’s south suburbs.
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