By GRANT MORGAN
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – House lawmakers approved a plan that would bring sports betting to Illinois along with six more potential casinos in a special extended session Saturday.
The plan is the amalgamation of a variety of gambling policy changes lawmakers have been unsuccessfully considering for years. Senate Bill 690, sponsored in the House by Blue Island Democrat Robert Rita, passed by an 87-27 vote.
According to lawmakers, all revenues from the bill would go toward funding the vertical components of a new capital infrastructure plan, such as renovations to prisons or university buildings. Those revenues would come from a variety of license fees and taxes on new operators in the sports betting and expanded casino industries.
“Sources for funding vertical [projects] were dried up and sucked up by our need to fund our day-to-day operations,” said Rep. Margo McDermed, a Republican from Mokena who voted in favor of the bill. “Many of our state buildings are in a state of poor repair and need to be renovated.”
In a committee hearing on the measure a day prior, lawmakers said new revenues are expected to provide more than $500 million to that plan.
The largest chunks of those dollars would come from the selling of licenses, which range from $3.2 million to $10 million for the casinos, race tracks and pro sports arenas that want to get into sports betting; $20 million a pop for the three potential online sports betting operators; and between $17,500 and $30,000 on every new slot machine or table seat casinos would be allowed to add.
Taxes on video gambling terminals would also be increased. While not as much as Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed increase to 50 percent, video gambling operators would see their tax rates go from 30 percent to 34 percent within two years.
Language in the bill would also allow for the state’s existing riverboat casinos to convert to land-based casinos. That provision caused some disagreement among lawmakers in House debate Saturday.
Rep. Michael Unes, a Republican from East Peoria, said he was not consulted about language that would “authorize land-based” casino operations anywhere in the city of Peoria.
According to Unes, the cities of Peoria and East Peoria have been locked in a 50-50 revenue sharing agreement from the casino on the East Peoria side of the Illinois River since 1991. Unes expressed concern that, if the casino were to relocate off the river, it and all its revenue dollars would go to Peoria instead of the city he represents.
“Nobody spoke to me about this. Nobody,” Unes said. “This language is specifically designed to damage my district. Having one of your largest employers being taken away is unprecedented.”
Rep. Ryan Spain, a Republican from Peoria, said the language allows for only the possibility of the casino moving to Peoria, but does not guarantee it or any changes to the revenue sharing agreement.
The plan also allows for a long-awaited casino to be built in Chicago. While language provides that such a casino must be privately-owned, a task force would examine whether the city could own it sometime in the future.
Chicago’s sports arenas could also pay $10 million to set up a sports betting parlor within the arenas themselves or within a five-block radius. While the bill allows official league data to be used for sports betting, it does not give any royalties to the leagues.
The state’s race tracks would also be allowed to install slot machines and more, turning them into “racinos.”
“This is a jobs bill,” said Rep. Rita, the sponsor. “This is going to create jobs, and it’s going to create economic development.”
The governor, in a statement Saturday night, said, ““Legalizing sports betting and expanding gaming will create jobs up and down the state, from Rockford to Chicago to Walker’s Bluff, where communities hungry for employment will see 10,000 new jobs. After the Supreme Court legalized sports betting, I promised the people of Illinois that sports wagering would be a key element of my legislative agenda, so that we are competitive with our neighboring states and can create more revenue for communities around Illinois.”
SB 690 needs Senate approval Sunday before being sent to the governor to be signed into law.