SPRINGFIELD — A massive gambling expansion bill stalled in a House committee Monday, further clouding chances the bill can win approval before Thursday’s scheduled adjournment.
The lead sponsor of Senate Bill 7, Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, said he’ll keep working on the bill despite time running out on the session.
“I want to analyze it and figure out where we can massage something, in terms of the testimony today,” Rita said. “I’m going to continue to work on this. I’m not going to close the door now.”
What was heard at the committee was a lot of testimony from opponents who said the expansion contained in the latest proposal will further cannibalize gaming in Illinois, which ultimately will hurt revenue. Jay Keller, a representative of Penn National Gaming, which operates casinos in Illinois, said the bill will authorize 22,000 new gaming positions that, added to what Illinois already has, would give the state the equivalent of 52 casinos.
“This bill is a massive expansion and would put Illinois at a level that people would consider (unacceptable),” he said.
Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said the state’s 10 existing casinos lost 28 percent of their customer base after the state legalized video gaming terminals.
“These gamers didn’t disappear. They went to the 6,500 neighborhood locations with slots,” Swoik said.
Adding six new casinos, slot machines at horse racing tracks and other expansion provisions will only make the problem worse, he said.
“This is not an expansion proposal, this is a cannibalization proposal,” Swoik testified at the House Executive Committee.
Dan Clausner, executive director of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association, said that some of the taverns, restaurants and social clubs the organization represents that rely on revenue from video gaming machines could go under if the state greatly expands gaming options.
“Some of our locations are still on the bubble (from the indoor smoking ban). They are just marginally making it,” he said. “If we go with all of this gaming, the likelihood is some of the terminal operators may have to withdraw those machines from those marginal locations. That may put some of our smaller independent restaurants and taverns out of business.”
However, horse racing interests said allowing slot machines and table games at tracks would help improve finances for the ailing industry. Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, whose city would get a casino under the expansion bill, said a casino would provide “650 permanent jobs in a community that is economically stagnant.”
The expansion bill did not cover fantasy sports betting, internet wagering or sports betting, which was given the OK by the U.S. Supreme Court.