SPRINGFIELD — Efforts in the Illinois House to pass a bill authorizing land-based casinos took a sharp turn Monday when a key committee voted to strip out the contents of a Senate-passed bill and send it back to the full House in a form that lawmakers call a “shell bill.”
One source familiar with the negotiations said that likely means lawmakers are working on a single, “omnibus” gambling bill that will have provisions dealing with sports betting, expanded casino operations and possibly higher taxes on video gambling, all of which are items Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others in the General Assembly have suggested as ways to raise additional money for the state.
Under current law, “riverboats” are defined as self-propelled excursion boats or one or more permanently moored barges on which gambling is authorized or licensed. There are 10 riverboat casinos operating in Illinois.
A “casino” would be defined as any facility in which lawful gaming is authorized, meaning it would not have to be attached to a body of water. The bill also would authorize existing riverboat casinos to relocate to other areas, opening the possibility of a casino in the Chicago area.
Meanwhile, casino corporations have been pushing for years for permission to move beyond the riverboat market to allow for full land-based casinos elsewhere in the state. Their efforts have intensified in recent years since Illinois legalized video gaming terminals, which the casinos argue have “cannibalized” their business.
A casino being considered at Walker’s bluff, a vineyard in Carterville, could pull visitors from the more than 4 million people who live within 250 miles of the county. Building such a casino would create more than 1,200 construction jobs and more than 700 permanent jobs once up and running.
In his budget proposal to the General Assembly in February, Pritzker did not specifically call for expanding casino gambling in Illinois, but he did call for legalizing sports betting, which the U.S. Supreme Court authorized in a decision last year. His office estimates that could bring in $200 million in licensing fees for next year’s budget.
He also proposed raising the marginal tax rate on video game operators with incomes over $2.5 million to 50 percent instead of the current 30 percent, which would generate an estimated $89 million a year in revenue for capital projects.
Lawmakers are now scrambling to meet the scheduled end of the 2019 spring session on Friday. Bills that fail to pass during the spring session could be resurrected in the November veto session or, more likely, be considered again in the 2020 regular session.