State Lawmakers Support Bringing Casino to South Surburbs
During a business breakfast at Saint Xavier University, local state legislators tell business leaders that an amended gaming bill would bring jobs and revenue to the area's economy
State legislators are rolling the dice that they can pass an amended gaming expansion bill in the upcoming fall veto session in the Illinois General Assembly.
State Sen. Ed Maloney (18th District) and State Reps. Bill Cunningham (35th District) and Kelly Burke (36th District) spoke at a breakfast for business leaders from Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Beverly and Blue Island at Saint Xavier University on Thursday.
The local state lawmakers—whose districts intersect Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Orland Hills and the Paloses in the Patch network—said they would continue to support gaming legislation that could possibly bring a casino to Chicago and put one in the South Suburbs.
Supporters of the sweeping gaming expansion legislation—which would have added five more casinos in Illinois, as well as slot machines at horse tracks and Chicago’s two airports—said SB 744 would have added $1.6 billion in state revenue and created thousands of jobs.
“I knew that this bill was not going to be the final product,” Maloney said. “I voted for it because it was the only way any kind of gaming bill was going to advance.”
Legislators in both houses representing districts in all quarters of the state would not have supported the bill had it been narrower in scope.
“If you simply said we’re going to put (a casino) in the city of Chicago, a lot of people in suburban and downstate areas would have jumped off the bill," Maloney said.
Although it’s comprehensive, Burke said it was unrealistic to expect all of the initiatives included in SB 744 to be realized.
“Just because the bill authorizes expansions, it doesn’t mandate that it happens,” Burke said. “There are investor groups that have to come up with the money to back these casinos. If the market is not there and they don’t think people would come or there is too much gaming, they won’t be built.”
Burke, who voted for SB 744 in May, said Gov. Quinn hasn’t told the General Assembly exactly what he thinks is wrong with it.
“I’m sure there is some cleanup that needs to be done,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve had a solid indication from the governor about what parts of it he would like to see cleaned up.”
Cunningham admitted that people are uncomfortable with the level of expansion in the gaming bill, but that gambling dollars are escaping the Chicago area “by the tens of millions of dollars” by crossing over into nearby states such as Indiana.
“Gambling is out there,” Cunningham said. “The question is, ‘How do we harness it and use it as a tool of economic development?’ I think the bill helps us do that.”
In 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation that expanded the number of video poker machines in bars and restaurants to help fund a capital bill to invest in state infrastructure.
Cunningham said he would be open to rolling back some of the video poker machines as a way of reducing excessive gaming in the state and funding the capital bill with an increase in the state’s cigarette tax.
“That was a much bigger expansion of gaming than what we’re talking about in terms of the casino bill,” Cunningham said. “I think the best tactic would be for the governor to sign the bill. If he has concerns about the size of the expansion or regulatory issues, and some of those concerns are legitimate, they can tightened up in an amendatory bill.”