Lawmakers Approve Gaming Expansion in Illinois, Governor Veto Likely

For the second year in a row, Illinois lawmakers have approved a significant statewide gambling expansion that would put a new casino in downtown Chicago. And for a second year in a row, there's just one problem: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

Currently, Illinois has nine riverboat casinos — in Alton, Aurora, East Peoria, East Saint Louis, Elgin, Joliet, Metropolis and Rock Island — and one land-based casino in Des Plaines, near O'Hare International Airport. Last May, the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate approved a bill that would establish five additional casinos: a land-based casino in Chicago and riverboat casinos in Rockford, Danville, Park City and a to-be-determined location in Chicago's south suburbs. Lawmakers declined to send that bill — which also allowed for slot machines at O'Hare and Midway airports — to Quinn because he'd promised to veto it.

Last week, the Illinois House and Senate passed a similar measure, although this year's bill eliminated airport gaming. Still, Quinn will not budge.

"I wouldn't hold your breath on getting that bill signed," the Democratic governor said, according to the Associated Press, indicating that the bill is "full of loopholes."

Previously, Quinn has said he supports the new casinos, but is concerned about a lack of ethical oversight. "This new bill … does not include a ban on campaign contributions as lawmakers in other states have done to keep corruption out of the gambling industry and out of Illinois," Quinn said in a statement. "It does not provide the Illinois Gaming Board with sufficient time to make critical licensing and regulatory decisions. This bill also does not provide adequate oversight of the procurement process. It does not ensure clear oversight of the proposed Chicago casino. As long as I'm governor, I will not support a gambling bill that falls well short of protecting the people of Illinois. It is clear that this gaming bill still needs significant improvement … Illinois cannot gamble its way out of our fiscal challenges."

Supporters of gambling in Illinois say the gaming expansion bill would generate at least $300 million in annual tax revenue for the cash-strapped state, plus a one-time infusion of $1 billion from licensing and a special tax. Critics, however, say the bill would hurt the state's existing casinos.