Top Illinois Newspaper Changes Stance On Proposed Gaming Legislation

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The effects of a newly passed bill in an Illinois Senate committee are already being felt as a key Illinois newspaper has changed its position regarding the future of gaming in the state.

The Editorial Staff of the State Journal-Register, the major paper for the capital city of Springfield, IL, started off their editorial on Saturday by noting that the current budget proposed by Governor Pat Quinn would reduce the state’s unpaid bill from $8.7 billion this year to $6.8 billion by the end of the 2014 fiscal year. Noting that Governor Quinn endorsed the expansion of gambling in the state – provided it could pass his ethical concerns – the Journal-Register editors stated, “This page has traditionally opposed an expansion of gaming, with the exception of a Chicago casino, on the grounds that gaming revenues have declined and that new casinos would saturate the market.”

The editors, however, looked at the new bill passed through the Senate Executive Committee last week, Senator Terry Link’s SB1739, and have come to a new conclusion regarding the future of gaming in Illinois. “The Senate estimates the bill will raise between $250 million to $450 million a year after everything is operational and that there will be $317 million available in one-time licensing fees,” the editors observed. Their change in position is due to the fact that the state isn’t making any headway towards paying their current debts and that the influx of gaming dollars would keep the state from tapping other sources to stay afloat.

Senator Link’s bill is virtually the same one that has been vetoed by Governor Quinn over the past two years. It would open up five new casinos across the state, put slot machines at horse racing tracks and expand already operating casinos. The major difference in Senator Link’s bill is the introduction of online gaming and poker into the mix, making them legal for the citizens of the state.

“If the governor can convince lawmakers to revise the tax code to pay bills more quickly, more power to him,” the Journal-Register staff states. “But the legislature has shown no appetite to do so. The administration could name only one loophole in recent years that lawmakers voted to close. But they have voted multiple times over the last few years to expand gambling. It’s the most realistic way to raise hundreds of millions of needed dollars in the short term.”

The Journal-Register editorial staff recognizes their change in position on the subject of gaming in Illinois might have a chilly reception. “Some will no doubt accuse us of not considering the moral problems with gambling and addiction,” the staff writes in the editorial. “The fact is the state settled that debate long ago. Gambling is legal in Illinois and most of the states that surround us and will remain so. The state should be getting its fair share.”

The Journal-Register suggests that the entirety of the revenues from all gaming in Illinois be put towards clearing the unpaid bills from the Illinois books. “It’s time for Illinois to shed its status as a deadbeat state,” the editors conclude.

Even with the support of the capital’s major paper – as well as support from the Chicago area, which has desired a casino location in the city, and some lawmakers – the Link bill may have a difficult time gaining ground. There is the serious issue of an oversaturation of the market (ten casinos currently exist in the state; if the Link bill is passed, it would be expanded to 23) and the decline in revenues for gaming. Those revenue decreases have been linked to another Illinois law which banned smoking in all public buildings. While that may have been one part of the equation, the competition from several of Illinois neighbors, including Missouri, Iowa and Indiana (and their expanded gaming attractions) might be the real reason behind the declines.

Illinois would be an attractive outlet for any gaming company, online or live. It is the fifth largest state in the U. S. and could potentially have the player base to drive an online operation. But even though a major paper supports passage of the expansion of gaming, the drive to online gaming and poker (and more casinos) in the state of Illinois still has a long road ahead of it.

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