SPRINGFIELD — A state senator said he’s willing to move forward with a bill that would create six new casinos in Illinois if the “grand bargain” budget resolution stalls.
Senate Bill 7, which is part of the Senate’s legislative bargain aimed at ending the state’s nearly two-year budget impasse, seeks to expand gambling in the hope of generating substantial revenue. Additionally, the legislation would allow existing Illinois casinos to expand and permit Chicago airports to install slot machines in terminals and at four horse racing tracks.
One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said last week that if the grand bargain dies, they would separate their bill and attempt to pass it separately.
The way the grand bargain is set up, its various parts that include the gambling expansion, pension reform, a property tax freeze, an income tax increase and more all have to pass, or none can pass.
“If the overall grand bargain doesn’t move as we hoped it would, certainly our goal would be to have this one move forward because it does help all parties and it does help parts of the state,” Syverson said.
The new casinos would be authorized to be built in Chicago, the south Chicago suburbs, Rockford, Danville, Williamson County and Lake County.
According to Syverson, $1.5 billion left Illinois last year and went to surrounding states via casinos on the state’s border. He said opening new casinos would help bring that revenue back to Illinois.
“These states are building casinos right on the Illinois border to get Illinois residents. We’re strategically placing these casinos in defensive nodes along the Wisconsin and Illinois borders,” he said. “It really does two things: One is that it helps bring gaming revenue into Illinois, and it stops the big outflow of people from Illinois going to surrounding states.”
Supporters of the bill also argue that the new casinos would bring in profits not just from gambling, but also from the big conventions the casinos and their hotels would play host to.
Syverson noted that there hasn’t been any opposition to the expanded gambling other than from the lawmakers who didn’t support it in the first place. He sees it as a noncontroversial issue that can pass both chambers.
“We hope this is one of those bills ... that both chambers and both parties can look at and take some credit for. This is really something that shouldn’t be caught up in some of the more controversial issues going on,” he said. “Hopefully (this) helps open the door for some of the other bills that can be negotiated and passed in a bipartisan basis as well.”
Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, is one of those opposed to SB 7. He said adding casinos also could lead to added crime.
“I guess my thought is if more expanded gambling would fix the problems of Illinois, it would have (already) been fixed,” Bivins said. “We’ve got more video stations, more gambling, than about anybody in the world, I think. From my previous career in law enforcement, I’ve seen the other side of this issue, which is why I’m opposed to it. You may get more revenue, but you also get more crime, more people addicted to gambling, you always get more.”
Anita Bedell, executive director of Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, agrees with Bivins and believes more and bigger casinos would do more harm than good.
“It’s too much. The state is already in trouble financially, and trying to make more money off gambling is not the answer,” Bedell said. “With video gambling on practically every corner and all the other types of gambling they have in Illinois, there are so many opportunities for people to lose their money as is, and expanding it any further is just going to cause more harm to individuals and families.”
The chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, was not available for comment.