Lawmakers adjourn with no Chicago casino action

Chicago News

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers adjourned the fall veto session Thursday without voting on a bill to clear the way for development of a Chicago casino, despite last-minute efforts to get one through the House.

Instead, they passed a measure that makes technical changes to the massive gambling expansion bill they passed this spring. That bill adds measures dealing with fingerprinting and other issues that the Illinois Gaming Board said were needed to process applications for all the new casinos authorized by that bill, as well as sports wagering.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Without that technical bill, its supporters said, those new gambling venues could not go forward, and the state would never see the revenue that has already been earmarked for large parts of the $45 billion public works package that was also approved in the spring session.

But the failure to act on the larger casino bill angered many Chicago-area lawmakers who accused their downstate colleagues of engaging in “regionalism.”

“You know what else is going to jeopardize the capital bill?” Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, asked on the House floor. “Not having a Chicago casino.”

Cassidy noted that, earlier in the day, Chicago-area lawmakers had supported a bill to consolidate suburban and downstate police and fire pension funds, a bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration had said was critical to stabilizing those funds financially.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

“The Chicago members took the vote that didn’t help our police and fire (pension funds) on the promise that they would be made whole later,” she said. “We took a leap of faith. But this body … needs to stop the regionalism.”

Afterward, though, Cassidy said she wasn’t completely surprised by what happened.

“I’ve been here going on 10 years, and I’ve seen gaming bills collapse over and over again,” she said. “Big bills tend to do that. So I’m not going to point the finger at what happened with this one. But I think we could have gotten it done and I’m disappointed we didn’t.”

Revenue from a Chicago casino would be split between the city and state, with the city’s share earmarked for Chicago’s own troubled pension funds.

The original gambling bill passed this spring had set up a special tax structure for a Chicago casino. It called for levying the operator of that casino a special 33 percent “privilege fee” on top of the normal taxes levied against revenue from slot machines and table games.

But a feasibility study performed over the summer concluded that under that tax structure, such a casino would not be viable, and it recommended lawmakers make changes during the veto session.

Proponents of a Chicago casino said they will resume their efforts when the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 28 for the start of the 2020 session.

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