As Ill. Faces Budget Crisis, Gambling Expansion Enters Debate

13 March 2009
Republican members of the Illinois House and Senate this week threw their weight behind a gambling expansion proposal, following an earlier move by the Democratic senator, John Cullerton, who called for the state to privatize its lottery, then launch online.

In a press conference Wednesday, Tom Cross, who is House minority leader, and his counterpart in the state Senate, Christine Radogno, said the proposal would fund a capital program for schools, infrastructure projects and mass transit.

According to the Kankakee Daily Journal, the proposal -- which has yet to be concretized -- may call for expanding the number of slot machines at existing riverboat casinos; constructing a Chicago casino; installing slot machines at racetracks; installing video poker machines in taverns; taking the lottery online -- or some combination thereof.

The proposal could raise as much as $1 billion annually, the paper said, but specific revenue projections have yet to be made.

Although IGamingNews has yet to assess the amount of political support the proposal is receiving, a statewide smoking ban took effect in January 2008 that will almost certainly act as a drag on forecasts.

Currently, the state's gambling industry is hurting.

According to statistics from the Illinois Gaming Board, adjusted gross receipts at riverboat casino tables in February were down 21.59 percent against the year-ago period, while adjusted gross receipts on electronic gaming devices at those casinos were down 7.34 percent. Moreover, the Illinois Racing board said total handle at the state's tracks was down 12 percent in 2008 to $818.6 million.

As Illinois copes with an $11.5 billion budget deficit, lawmakers are now weighing whether to raise gasoline and income taxes.

The gasoline tax hike, incidentally, is backed by Mr. Cullerton, who on Feb. 19 introduced SB1654, which, again, would see the state's lottery operated by a third party and tickets sold online.

More on the gambling expansion proposal generally, and Mr. Cullerton's Internet lottery proposal specifically, to come.

The IGN staff continually troll the wires, foreign papers, corporate news alert services and other dark, dusty corners of the Web to bring you the very latest industry news.