In a show of frustration over the lack of support for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed changes that would have allowed a casino there, Chicago lawmakers pulled their support and asked for others to do the same on a bill that, had it failed, could have held up the state’s other casinos and the rollout of sports gambling.
When an amended Senate Bill 222 was called in the House, Chicago lawmakers began cryptically prodding state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, about why it was being called, why another bill wasn’t being considered, and whether he could alter his bill to inject language into it.
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Soon, it became clear that the Chicago lawmakers were frustrated with the lack of support from those outside of the city on Senate Bill 516, an amended bill that contained the changes Lightfoot said she’d need to get a Chicago casino off the ground.
It soon became clear that they were lobbying others not to support Rita’s bill, which made changes requested by the state gaming board and the FBI to allow for proper fingerprinting of those applying for gaming and operator licenses. Failure of the seemingly innocuous bill could have had consequences across the state, namely a wrench in the gears of gambling revenue needed to fund the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan.
“We want a Chicago casino. Put it at the Thompson Center. We’d love to see that,” said Republican state Rep. Tim Butler. “But if we don’t pass this bill, it holds up Williamson County, it holds up Danville, it holds up Waukegan, it holds up South Suburban, it holds up Rockford, and it holds up sports wagering.”
Chicago lawmakers contended that those opposing the casino bill were endangering the state’s infrastructure bill as well.
“You’re right, this is a simple technical bill and the reality is that this could jeopardize the vertical capital projects,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “But, do you know what else is going to jeopardize the vertical capital projects? Not having a Chicago casino.”
The legislation, Rita said, would have made clear the provisions for the FBI to fingerprint and conduct background checks on officials that will be involved with the state’s new casinos as well as Illinois’ sports gaming operations.
Many of the state’s other casinos are being built in economically depressed areas in an effort to boost their local coffers via direct tax revenue as well as a boost in ancillary sales activity.
Butler and other Republicans said they were disrespected by Lightfoot not reaching out to them for support. In the Senate hearing on the legislation, Republicans were upset that the changes Chicago was seeking involved a small cut to the city’s tax rates but a significant cut to the revenue the state would receive. This, some said, would have left infrastructure projects in question.
“Since the spring session, Chicago has not approached me once,” Butler said. The Springfield-area Republican was designated as the point person in casino and gambling matters.
Lightfoot talked about the stalled effort Friday, notably about why House Speaker Madigan decided not to take a more active role in negotiations.
“The speaker had some kind of conflict about it. I didn’t ask about it, he didn’t share,” she said. “We deal with the cards that we’re dealt.”
Rita’s bill narrowly passed before lawmakers adjourned for the year.
(Copyright WBGZ Radio / www.AltonDailyNews.com)