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Gambling Package in Danger After Frustrated Sponsor Drops Support
A plan to bring four new casinos to Illinois and expand gambling at
the existing ones hit choppy water in the Legislature Tuesday with a
dispute over whether to lower taxes on the state’s riverboat casinos.
Longtime gambling proponent Sen. Denny Jacobs dropped his support for
the plan after the Senate’s president refused to lower the riverboats’
taxes as an incentive for the casinos to expand.
Without that incentive, Jacobs said, casino operators and lawmakers
won’t support the measure. Under the current tax structure, the casinos
would end up paying the state half of what they earn off just about
every new gambling position they add, he said.
“We were only doing it for the money, but I don’t think we can
maximize our dollars,” Jacobs said.
Supporters have been pushing the massive gambling expansion plan as a
way to generate $1.8 billion to help fill an estimated $2.3 billion hole
in the state budget. The measure counts largely on revenue from the sale
of four new casino licenses — including a mega-casino to be owned by
the city of Chicago — and from thousands of new positions at riverboats
and the first slot machines at horse tracks.
Losing Jacobs’ support is another complication as lawmakers try to
reach a new state budget agreement by May 31.
There are other options for balancing the budget, such as raising
fees or cutting services, but the idea of raising money by expanding
gambling is considered among the least politically painful choices as
the self-imposed budget deadline approaches.
Still, there are obstacles. Gov. Rod Blagojevich opposes a Chicago
casino, and Senate Republicans oppose city ownership. Various gambling
interests are grappling over details of an expansion plan, while many
lawmakers are wary of any package whose prospects are uncertain. One
lingering question is whether the state could even see any of that money
before the end of the next fiscal year.
Despite the setback Tuesday, Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago,
remained confident that the gambling expansion bill could pass. He said
there would be changes and he would consider Jacobs’ concerns.
“We’re still working on it, and hopefully, the casino boat will sail
before session ends,” Jones said.
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