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Lawmakers “very close” to new casino bill

A blackjack dealer  hands out cards Hollywood Casino Aurorlast month.  |  Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

A blackjack dealer hands out cards at the Hollywood Casino in Aurora last month. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 5, 2013 6:08AM



SPRINGFIELD — Although the deadline to act on an earlier-vetoed gambling expansion bill has expired, state leaders say they are “very close” to an agreement on a new casino bill.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn said a new casino bill could be introduced in the next legislative session in January.

But their comments caught some state legislators by surprise, leaving questions about what the latest gaming expansion plan might look like.

“We don’t know what they’re talking about,” said House Republican Leader Tom Cross, a Republican from Oswego.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat from Aurora, said Monday that if Emanuel is talking on the new deal, the bill will include a Chicago casino.

“If it’s Mayor Emanuel, it’s a Chicago casino,” she said. “I think the majority of people would be OK with that compromise.”

Quinn said he is optimistic that they can come up with a bill by Jan. 9, when the next legislative session begins.

“The mayor and I are very close on the issue of strong regulation and ethics and making sure the money goes to schools and infrastructure,” Quinn said.

Emanuel said the deal has been 25 years in the making.

“... On oversight and the type of issues like that, we are in alignment,” he said. “Unlike any other casino in the state, all of the resources will go into... modernizing the Chicago Public School system.”

But it’s hard to know what the speaker will call for a vote, and when, said State Rep. Kay Hatcher, a Republican from Yorkville.

“In the end, we all look in the same crystal ball,” Hatcher said.

In May, the legislature passed the major gambling expansion measure that would set up five new casinos statewide, add gaming positions and allow slots at the state’s horse tracks. Proponents say it would raise much-needed tax revenue for the cash-strapped state; opponents — including anti-gambling activists and existing casinos — say it will further saturate Illinois’ already-busy gambling market.

Quinn vetoed the bill over the summer, saying that it lacked ethical protections.

The legislature meets during the first half of the year to pass legislation, then returns for two weeks in the fall to act on any vetoes from the governor. This year’s session met last week and will pick up again Tuesday through Thursday.

Chapa LaVia said if the new bill only included a Chicago casino, she would support it. But if it included multiple casinos in the suburbs, poised to take a share of Aurora’s gambling revenue, she would “absolutely not” support the measure.

“You only have a certain number of gamblers out there, it’s the same money in the pot,” she said.

A Chicago location would tap into tourists and Indiana gamblers, she said, creating “a new pool” of gamblers.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said in August that slots at racetracks would create more direct competition for Aurora’s Hollywood Casino than a new casino would. He said he would not oppose new casinos in cities like Rockford that need the income.

Hatcher said regardless of when a gaming bill hits the House floor again, she will continue to oppose gambling expansion because of the toll new casinos would take on the local economy.

“I’m protecting my constituents that have jobs through a gaming establishment,” Hatcher said.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen, a Republican from Aurora, was not counting on casting a vote on the gambling bill before he left his Senate post. He was sworn in as the new chairman of the Kane County Board on Monday.

Lauzen also said he’s opposed to expanding gambling in the state, as Kane County relies on an ever-shrinking gambling tax.

“It’s not that I’m prudish about gambling. I like playing a friendly poker game...,” Lauzen said. “(But) instead of figuring out how we can get into people’s pockets, (we need to) figure out how we can strengthen the economy.”

Undocumented licenses

A push to license undocumented immigrants so they can drive in Illinois advanced in the Illinois Senate last week as Republicans cast aside their hesitancy and got behind the measure.

The plan passed the Senate Executive Committee by a 12-2 vote and is positioned for floor action when lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday.

The plan would equip as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants with three-year temporary drivers licenses after they had undergone rules-of-the-road training and offered proof they had obtained auto insurance.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report.



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