INDIANAPOLIS | Northwest Indiana casinos, communities and residents stand to lose big if a suburban Illinois state lawmaker wins approval for either of his plans to expand gaming in Chicago.
State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, presented two gaming proposals to an Illinois House committee Wednesday. The first creates a single massive Chicago casino equivalent to five East Chicago Ameristars; while the other authorizes a Hammond Horseshoe-sized casino in Chicago and additional smaller casinos in the south suburbs, Waukegan, Rockford and Danville.
The panel did not act on either of Rita's proposals but is expected to forward one of them to the full House later this month — as an amendment to Illinois Senate Bill 1739 — in the hopes of winning approval from the Democratic-controlled Legislature and eventually securing Gov. Pat Quinn's signature.
The Democratic governor vetoed the 2012 version of Rita's second proposal, saying it didn't include enough ethics safeguards. Rita has said the revised versions of both measures are designed to satisfy Quinn and bring extra bucks into the state's depleted treasury.
Odds are much of that money would come from Illinois residents who currently gamble at casinos in Hammond, East Chicago, Gary and Michigan City.
The nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Services Agency estimates that nearly 70 percent of region casinogoers live outside Indiana and will choose to play at a closer, newer gaming facility if one is available.
For example, the 2013 opening of a Cincinnati casino shrunk attendance at the three nearby Indiana riverboats by 27 percent.
That's a bad deal for the more than 4,000 region residents employed by area casinos, which also pay about $210 million a year in wagering and admission taxes to the state and millions more to local governments.
State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, who oversees gaming legislation in the Indiana House, said he plans to meet with Hoosier gaming stakeholders this summer, not in response to whatever Illinois does, but to ensure Indiana casinos are best situated to compete and continue to be relevant.
"People that are even opposed to gaming have to look at this and realize how important the revenue is and that there are jobs in this industry," Dermody said. "I don't think people can just turn away and say no."
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he's inclined to support a call by state Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, for a gaming study commission to convene this summer to review all aspects of gaming in Indiana and recommend possible changes.
However, even if the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly endorses land-based casinos, slots at bars or other changes during the 2015 legislative session, Republican Gov. Mike Pence likely won't be on board. He opposes expanded gaming options in the state.