Illinois Gov. Not Hot on Gambling Expansion, but Internet Lottery Proposal Progressing

3 April 2009
As Illinois struggles to bridge its budget deficit, there has been recent bipartisan interest in privatizing the state lottery and offering some of its services online.

State Senator John J. Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat who took over as Senate president earlier this year, has proposed a bill that would permit the sale of Lotto and Mega Millions tickets online and obtain a private management system to operate the lottery on behalf of the state.

Additionally, Republicans Tom Cross, the House minority leader, and Christine Radogno, the Senate minority leader, recently made a proposal to generally expand gambling in Illinois, privatize some components of the state lottery and permit the sale of lottery tickets online.

Both groups see an untapped tax resource in bringing the lottery online.

“There is significant additional revenue out there without the social costs that people worry might come with more general expansion,” Senator Don Harmon, who is sponsoring Mr. Cullerton’s bill, told IGamingNews.

Mr. Harmon acknowledged that there has been some opposition from groups like Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction, but said the legislation met with little opposition during the committee process.

“I think we’ve reached a point of comfort with the concepts,” he said.

Mr. Cross and Ms. Radogno hope to generate the necessary revenue for a massive construction plan with their proposal and avoid increasing income or gas taxes.

Governor Patrick J. Quinn has indicated some resistance to considering gambling as a reliable source of tax revenue. In his March 18 budget address, Mr. Quinn dismissed gambling expansion as a possible solution to the $11 billion budget deficit.

Mr. Harmon said that he thinks despite Mr. Quinn's resistance to general gambling expansion, Mr. Cullerton’s bill is limited and contained enough to win the governor’s support.

“This bill is designed to market existing games more efficiently to the occasional purchaser,” Mr. Harmon said. “There are no proposals to lease or sell the lottery; without that distraction, people are able to focus on the limited proposal being offered.”

Although the Cross-Radogno proposal does include expanding Illinois gambling generally by installing additional slot machines at riverboat casinos and building a casino in Chicago, Mr. Cross’ press spokesperson, Sara Wojcicki, said she still expects the governor’s support.

“The current governor did not include any type of gaming initiatives in his recent budget proposal; however, in personal discussions with him, he has indicated that expanding gaming is not one of his first options, but he did not completely take it off the table,” Ms. Wojcicki told IGamingNews in an e-mail.

Mr. Cross and Ms. Radogno’s proposal has not progressed beyond the discussion phase.

Mr. Cullerton’s bill has moved through the committee process and is now before the Senate. It should be up for a vote on the floor in the next few weeks when the Senate returns from recess.

Caroline Gallay is a staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in Columbia, Mo.