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Expansion plan has two choices

Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD (AP) – A state lawmaker who’s trying to expand legalized gambling in Illinois is offering the General Assembly two choices, including one plan that would create a mega-casino in Chicago but nothing else in the state.

Rep. Bob Rita, who announced his plans Thursday, said his ideas were scaled back from two previous high-profile attempts.

Rita, a Democrat from Blue Island, said one amendment to his bill would create a Chicago casino with up to 10,000 spots for gamblers, but strips the other four new casinos proposed in past measures. The second plan would create a 4,000-spot Chicago casino and smaller, 1,200-position ones in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and a suburb south of Chicago.

“We’ve got to take a different approach, and of all the concerns that I’ve heard, filing these two amendments will be the way to free up this logjam that we’re in,” Rita said, “and take a different approach, scale this proposal down while concentrating on creating jobs and putting money into schools.”

Rita said he had no estimate of what the state’s portion of expanded gambling would be, though it’d be split in either approach between education – on a per-student basis – and capital construction projects. Supporters of past bills put the annual state revenue at $400 million to $1 billion.

Five-casino expansion has won legislative approval twice since 2011, but Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has opposed them, fearing that they didn’t go far enough to safeguard against the involvement of organized crime or to limit campaign contributions from gambling operations.

A spokeswoman for Quinn did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Rita’s initiative would put the Chicago gambling house under state ownership and regulation, replacing the previous plan that would have made the casino the city’s responsibility. It would also limit campaign contributions from anyone with more than a 1 percent interest in a business seeking a casino license, instead of 7.5 percent.

Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and a leading legislator on the issue, said he hadn’t seen the details of Rita’s proposal and couldn’t comment on it, but said he was encouraged by actions in the House and “their willingness to get this moving again.”

In the Chicago-only idea, there would be no slot machines allowed at horse racing tracks as previous plans suggested. Horse tracks have clamored for a piece of the action since riverboat casinos started cutting into the statewide gambling take 20 years ago.

But the idea for five casinos would allow 600 slot machines at each horse track in Cook County horse track and 450 per track outside the county, except for Fairmount Park in the Metro East suburbs of St. Louis.

Rita heard at a hearing in East St. Louis that residents were concerned about how additional gambling at Fairmount would affect the Casino Queen riverboat in East St. Louis. A Fairmount Park spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Neither proposal would allow the state’s 10 existing casinos to expand. Previous measures called for 1,600 spots for the new casinos and permitting existing riverboats to expand from 1,200 to 1,600.

“It’s going to produce a lot of money for education, a lot of money to put people back to work in capital (construction) and address concerns,” Rita said. “It’s two different approaches that I’d like to see which direction they’d like to go, the will of the General Assembly.”

Also gone is an initial proposal to add slot machines to Chicago’s two airports, but a spokesman said Rita is open to discussing the issue.

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The bill is SB1739.

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Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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