Lou Lang: Illinois Gaming Bill is “Economic Development”

(Springfield, IL) — The Illinois Senate on Tuesday approved a measure in a 30-27 vote that would allow Rockford to host one of five new casinos in the state.

“I’ve been at this job for seven years, and a casino has been discussed each of those seven years,” said Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, which is one of many local partners in Rockford trying to improve the city’s economic standing.

A Rockford casino is expected to create about 1,000 jobs and bring in nearly $175 million a year to the Rockford economy in taxes, including hotel and gas tax, said Fadden.

The legislation, SB 744, would allow for new casinos, one in Rockford, Danville, Park City, Chicago and a to-be-determined location in Chicago’s south suburbs. The measure also would expand Illinois’ nine riverboats and permit the state’s horse-race tracks to install video poker or slot machines.

However, most riverboat casino operators do not support the measure, because it could create competition with horse-race tracks, once the electronic gaming is put in place, said Tom Swoik, executive director of Illinois Casino Gaming Association. ICGA is a nonprofit that represents seven of of the state’s nine riverboats.

Tim Carey, president and general manager of Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Cicero, said the measure is going to save his industry.

“We had horsemen leaving the state — going to Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and Indiana (where gaming is allowed in tracks) — now Illinois gets to get back in being in the top three thoroughbred (horse racing sites) in the country,” Carey said.

The gambling expansion is expected to generate up to $1.5 billion in licensing fees this year alone that would help Illinois pay off its $8 billion deficit, said measure sponsor, State Rep. Lou Lang.

“I think (lawmakers) see this as an economic development, (and) we’ve spent a lot of time this spring and last year talking about job creation,” said the Democrat from Skokie.

Gov. Pat Quinn, along with newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, supports a casino in Chicago. However, the governor has been less supportive of casinos in the other cities.

But Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said Quinn bills himself as the “jobs governor,” and a Danville casino will create jobs. The casino is expected to create about 600 construction jobs and about 1,200 permanent jobs in the gaming facility.

“And then add the hospitality industry — the restaurants, the hotels, the retail shops — will either be built around the facility or those that are already existing in our community,” he said.

If Quinn signs the measure into law, Eisenhauer said Danville will start working toward building a casino within 12 months.

“But this bill does allow for us to utilize a temporary facility before the construction of the permanent one, and so that will help us expedite starting some gaming facilities in the community,” he said.

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said the governor needs to listen to local leaders when he determines whether to sign the gambling expansion.

“There’s a lot of regional support saying, ‘This is important to our community … good for tourism,’ and from that they can build other things,” said Syverson.

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