SPRINGFIELD | Even though Gov. Pat Quinn just rejected two similar plans to expand gambling in Illinois, lawmakers tried Wednesday to revive their efforts as a measure to add five casinos and slot machines at Chicago's two major airports sailed through a Senate committee hearing.
This time lawmakers are promoting their measure as a money generator for public schools, perhaps in an attempt to get approval from Quinn, who two hours before the committee hearing announced $400 million in education cuts and hinted at possibly backing gambling legislation to offset the cuts.
The proposal — which could come up for a full Senate vote as early as Thursday — would authorize casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County. It would also allow current and future casino licensees to apply for an online gambling license.
The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat, said the gambling expansion from brick-and-mortar casinos could generate between $400 million and $1 billion for the state. The bulk of the money would be allocated to the state's Education Assistance Fund, after the local communities receive a share of the profits.
The bill also would authorize 1,200 new slot machines in Cook County and another 900 outside that county. The operator of a Chicago casino also would be eligible to apply for up to 4,000 slot machines to be located at Midway and O'Hare international airports. The first $50 million generated from application and licensing fees, as well as the per-slot machine fee that operators must pay, would go to the Illinois Gaming Board. The remainder would be used to cover part of the state's staggering unpaid bills that amount currently amount to $9 billion.
Quinn has long opposed gambling expansions, arguing that the bills the Legislature passed did not include strong ethical protections. But during his budget address Wednesday, Quinn listed the expansion plans as an example to break the state's financial "gridlock."
"Of course, gaming expansion has to be done right. It must have tough ethical standards, a campaign contribution ban on casino operators, and no loopholes for mobsters," Quinn told lawmakers.
Earlier this week, Quinn vetoed a 2011 attempted by lawmakers to expand gambling in the state. The proposal would have added five new casinos and more slot machines, and proponents said it would have brought in an estimated $1.6 billion. The bill didn't go to Quinn's desk until the end of session in January. Last year he vetoed another gambling expansion plan that also called for five new casinos, including one in Chicago. He said it needed a ban on political contributions from the gambling industry.
The measure that the Senate Executive Committee voted on following Quinn's speech closes the door on political contributions from gambling licensees. The measure prohibits them from giving money to various officeholders and candidates, including the governor and members of the General Assembly.
The proposal also would authorize casino licensees to operate Internet gambling. Online gambling would allow people in Illinois to play table games such as poker and black jack over the Internet, but sports betting wouldn't be authorized. Online profits would be split, with $10 million going toward treatment programs for problem gamblers, $5 million to the State Fairgrounds and the remainder to the state's public pension systems.
Illinois' pension problem is the worst in the nation, with nearly $100 billion in unfunded liability.
Opponents of the measure Wednesday argued online gambling would encourage betting by underage people. Others opposing the bill said it would saturate the market.