(Springfield, IL) – January 4, 2010. In order to get five new casinos, Illinois lawmakers may be willing to make it easier for the state’s 10 existing riverboats to expand.
State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said Monday that he is re-tooling the latest gambling expansion package in Springfield to give a sweetener to the nine casinos now open and the one being built in Des Plaines.
“There are going to be provisions in the [new legislation] that will recognize that current gaming operators will have some problems as a result of the smoking ban, as a result of the down economy, and as a result of the increased competition they are going to get under this [plan.],” Lang said. “We’re going to provide some credits to them that they are not getting today. We’re going to provide some opportunity for expansion. We’re going to try and make their way a little better.”
Lang is not yet saying what lawmakers will do to make it “better” for existing casinos, though he is quick to point out that the basics of the Senate plan, Senate Bill 737, will not change.
“New riverboat licenses, slot machines at race tracks, a land-based casino in the city of Chicago… none of those are being changed. But it’s a 400-page [piece of legislation], there’s a lot of room in there for change,” Lang said.
But there may not be many changes that will change the minds of current casino operators or lawmakers who have a boat in their area.
Tom Swoik, director of the Illinois Casino Gaming and Gaming Association, said as long as the expansion plan’s broad strokes stay the same, his opposition won’t change.
“We’re not opposed to new casinos, it’s just the number of new casinos and gaming positions under this plan,” he said. “It’s too much.”
Swoik’s own numbers paint a picture of Illinois brimming with slot machines.
“Under this plan Illinois would have more gaming than Missouri, Iowa and Indiana, combined,’ said Swoik.
The Casino and Gaming Association has hinted that it may be willing to back off its opposition if Illinois would exempt casinos from the smoking ban. But Lang said that’s a non-starter.
Without that give-and-take, Illinois lawmakers with casinos in their home districts say it’ll be tough for them to vote for the expansion.
State Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) is still waiting to see the details of Lang’s additions. But Beiser said he’s reluctant to support anything that could take away from his local boat.
“To me it boils down to jobs,” he said. “The boat in Alton is a major employer in my area, and I need to protect those jobs. But also the casino is a major piece of the city of Alton’s budget. That has to be a ,too.”
New casinos are not a worry for State Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-Milan). He’s more focused on what the legislation would mean for the Quad City Downs race track.
“The new boats won’t be here, they’ll be in Chicago … The Jumers Casino is doing a good bit of business,” he said. “It’s new and doing well.”
Verschoore said he could support a full slate of racing at the Quad City track, but added the last plan he saw gave more weight to off-track betting parlors than the horsemen.
Lang said his additions would give more to Illinois’ staggering horse racing industry. Lang says as many as 50,000 new jobs could be created.
State Rep. Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) said that would be welcome news in McHenry County.
“There are 11,000 workers in the horse racing industry today,” Tryon said. “Then you have all of the farmers and other associated job across the state. I think we need to do something to help them all out.”
Lawmakers “down here need to look at the total number of casinos in this plan. They need to know the impact of this proposal before they vote,” said Lang.
Lang said he expects to finish his changes in the next day or so and hopes to have a vote on the legislation by the end of the week.
Illinois Statehouse News