Major gambling expansion in Illinois

SPRINGFIELD | As the pieces might be falling into place for major gambling expansion in Illinois, with it comes potential impacts to gambling in Indiana.

The proposal the Senate approved last week would create three new casinos, including a land-based site in Chicago, and allow existing riverboat casinos to expand by several thousand gaming positions, such as slot machines.

The money generated would help fund a $13 billion state borrowing program for road and school construction projects and mass transit in Chicago. Schools also would see $300 million more, much of that for the base-level classroom spending per student.

Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, said she’d like to see one of the new casinos in the south Chicago suburbs, which she represents, because local gamblers are flocking to place bets across the border in Indiana.

“It needs to be put in a place that would make the most money for the state,” she said. “The language doesn’t mention a specific place, and would basically go to the highest bidder.”

That’s something that Kirk Saylor, chief operating officer of Don Barden’s Majestic Star Casinos, said would be cause for concern for the region’s gambling boats.

“In the gaming business, (customers) will seek the shortest distance to a casino,” Saylor said.

A similar casino plan passed the Illinois Senate in May but died in the House.

That measure would have allowed all existing casinos to expand, brought a publicly owned casino to Chicago and offered four riverboat gaming licenses, including one for the south suburbs that would have to have been constructed within eight miles of the Indiana border and north of U.S. 30.

In the latest legislation, while Chicago would receive one gaming facility, the decision on where the other two would be built falls to the Illinois Gaming Board.

A south suburban casino would affect Northwest Indiana riverboats more than a facility in Chicago, said Ed Feigenbaum, whose publication, Indiana Gaming Insights, tracks the Hoosier state’s 11 casinos.

“It would hurt a lot more if it were in Country Club Hills or in Dolton,” Feigenbaum said in May. He said a downtown Chicago casino would appeal more to the tourist trade than the suburban and neighborhood residents who typically travel to Northwest Indiana casinos.

Talk of expanding gambling has become as inevitable as death and taxes at the Illinois statehouse. But in the past, gambling measures usually died because they got so loaded up with goodies that legislators backed away.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, predicts the latest proposal will meet the same fate.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said House members simply haven’t shown much interest in big gambling expansion and might not favor a plan that doesn’t pump most of the new money into education.

“I’m not sure how comfortable House members will be with that,” Brown said.

— Associated Press Writer Ryan Keith, and Times Staff Writers Susan Erler and Chris Keller contributed to this report.