With a renewed push for casino expansion in Illinois — particularly a facility on the south side of Chicago that has been suggested by outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel — state Sen. Scott Bennett has restarted talk of a casino in Danville.
There’s been discussion of casino expansion in Illinois, and in Danville, for more than 15 years. The closest it came to fruition was in 2012, when a gambling expansion bill cleared both houses of the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn. The bill called for five new casinos — at Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Park City and in the south Chicago suburbs — and also permitted slot machines at racetracks. No attempt was made to override Quinn’s veto.
The principals in the local effort have changed — gone are Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, Sen. Mike Frerichs and Rep. Bill Black — but the demand is still there, said Bennett, a Champaign Democrat who replaced Frerichs about four year ago.
“Clearly the community leaders who have been part of the discussion and part of that agreed impact idea — to split up the revenue for schools and other needs — they still see that as a game-changer,” Bennett said.
“The question besides the investment is the size. If Quinn had signed this when it was on his desk, I think it would have been a larger casino than what we’re talking now. Today you have a lot more competition.”
But the feeling remains that there’s still a market in Danville for a casino, he said. And a need for the jobs it would provide.
“There’s no question if you want to gamble you can up and down Route 1 and find a couple dozen different spots” for video gaming, Bennett said. “The question is, there just aren’t that many jobs. You have one person at a time (employed) in each of those places, as opposed to a big group of employees that would make it more exciting.
“The other thing is that nobody is coming from Indiana to spend their money at those places. But our projections suggest that over 50 percent of the money at a Danville casino would come from the Indiana side of the border. That’s why I think there’s still interest because you’d be bringing in money from outside the community.”
Adding to the urgency of a Danville casino are the preliminary discussions in Indiana of a possible satellite casino in Terre Haute, less than an hour away.
“So you’re going to have it either way in the next decade is my prediction,” Bennett said. “So do you want the taxes to stay in Illinois and in Illinois schools, or leave our state? The right call is to put a casino in Danville before we end up with one on the other side of the border.”
Emanuel’s interest in a Chicago casino — which would be the first one in the city — is to address insufficient funding of the city’s pension system, Benentt noted.
“The Chicago need for their pensions is just so strong now that that’s going to be the motivator,” he said. “And all of the people I talk to recognize that two border communities that have had tough economic times, Danville and Rockford, any bill should include those two. They’ve been promised it a long time but don’t have anything to show for it.”
Bennett said he believes legislative discussion of expanded gambling will begin soon.
“Hopefully we’ll have something in the first few weeks,” he said. The new Senate will be in session only five days in January and six in February.
After eking out another election win last month, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, can look ahead to two more challenges to his congressional career: one in 2020 and another one possibly in 2021.
Davis, who has had two unusually close races and two comparative blowouts since 2012, could end up fighting for his political life twice in the next three years unless fate looks kindly on him.
The congressman won election for the first time, in 2012, by defeating Democrat David Gill by 1,002 votes. His next two elections were much easier as he won by 36,402 votes in 2014 and 60,772 in 2016. But he squeaked by again in November, defeating Springfield Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan by 2,058 votes, or about two-thirds of one percentage point.
As two recent elections have proven, it’s risky to look ahead and try to predict too much, but it’s likely Davis will have another tough election challenge in 2020, particularly if Donald Trump is still president and Londrigan runs again. Democratic turnout is always higher in presidential election years, Trump already has proven himself to be a less than formidable vote-getter in the 13th District, and Londrigan will have name recognition among most voters.
But should Davis survive that race, his next challenge will come with congressional redistricting following the 2020 Census.
Illinois will lose one congressional seat after the Census, predicts Election Data Services, a consulting firm that specializes in reapportionment and political data.
And because Democrats most likely will be redrawing the state’s political boundaries in 2021 and because most of the population loss in Illinois is believed to be occurring outside the Chicago area, four rural districts represented by Republicans probably will be consolidated into three.
Smack in the middle of those is Davis’ 13th District. To the north is Rep. Adam Kinzinger. To the west is Rep. Darin LaHood. To the south are the districts of Reps. Mike Bost and John Shimkus, Davis’ old boss.
Shimkus could make the point moot by retiring — he’s been in Congress since 1997 — and allowing his district to be folded into the others. Or one of the four of Davis, Kinzinger, LaHood or Bost could leave the House after the new term and run for the Senate in 2020. Sen. Dick Durbin, who will be 75 at the time of the 2020 election, may not run for a fourth term. And if he does, Davis might be willing to challenge him. The two are far from friendly.