SPRINGFIELD – A state lawmaker is making a last-minute push to expand gambling in Illinois, a revenue option he says should be on the table if Democratic leaders can't gather enough votes for a tax increase within the next two weeks.
Democratic Rep. Bob Rita of Blue Island sent a letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan and Republican leader Jim Durkin on Monday hoping to gain support for his plan. Rita says there's been no sense of urgency from the political leadership, and recent changes to the measure are only slowing the process down.
The legislation, scheduled to be heard in a House committee Monday, was not called for a vote. Still, Rita thinks the Legislature has just enough time to pass a plan before lawmakers finish their work in Springfield on May 31.
The proposal has two options: One adds five casinos – including one in Chicago – and slots at horse tracks; the other calls for a mega-casino in Chicago.
"Clearly, we're going to need revenue," Rita said after House Democrats passed a spending plan that relies on an income tax increase.
The state faces an estimated $1.8 billion dip in revenue unless lawmakers make permanent an income tax increase that was scheduled to roll back in January. It's still unclear if Democrats have enough votes to pass the increase.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who has vetoed two previous gambling expansion measures, hasn't indicated whether he'd approve the measure, while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he wants to solve the city's pension crisis before looking at gambling options.
Further slowing the issue are several recently proposed changes to allow slot machines at the Fairmount Park horse track in Collinsville. Public hearings have convinced Rita they would hurt the Casino Queen in East St. Louis. But Democratic Rep. Jay Hoffman of Collinsville says banning slots would kill the track.
"It's not going to happen without this issue being taken care of," Hoffman said. "You can't just arbitrarily say one entity in the entire horse racing industry is not going to be able to grow while the rest do."