One state lawmaker says now is the time for Illinois to push forward on gaming expansion. State Senator Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, says a bill that would allow for up to six new casinos in the state already has passed the Senate and it’s simply waiting for the House to weigh in.
“We just need the speaker to allow a vote in the House,” Syverson said. “The last two years he hasn’t allowed his members to vote on it. But if he would allow a vote, this thing would pass and we could be up and running.”
Senate Bill 7 would permit the creation of new casinos in Chicago, south suburban Cook County, northern Lake County, Danville, Rockford, and Williamson County. Syverson says it’s no coincidence those are mostly border communities.
“If you go to an Indiana casino, right over the border, you’ll see 95 percent of the license plates are all Illinois plates,” Syverson said. “Last year, a little over $1.5 billion left Illinois and went to our five surrounding states for gaming. Other states are building casinos right on the border of Illinois and they’re marketing and attracting Illinois people that go there and spend their money.”
Syverson represents the 35th district in northern Illinois, along the Wisconsin border. He’s also worried about a proposed mega-casino just over the state line in Beloit that is getting closer to becoming a reality.
“We’re talking about a couple hundred yards over the border, building the largest casino in the Midwest,” Syverson said. “Their casino would have a water park, they would have a convention center, they would have a hotel, they would have a concert venue. It is a concern. It would devastate [tourism in] northern Illinois.”
Syverson has heard concerns from opponents about gaming reaching a “saturation point” in Illinois, but he argues this bill would not act to cannibalize existing state facilities.
“Those people who aren’t big proponents of gaming [have to ask], do you want it over the border where they’ll get the revenue and the money and we’ll be left with the problems associated with it but no benefits? Or, do we fight to try to get our own as a way to block that?”
According to a Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability report, Illinois received more than $1.3 billion in tax revenue from the gaming industry last year, up slightly from 2016. An expansion also could be a boost for some local government coffers.
“Every time Chicago gets into financial trouble, they make all of us bail them out,” Syverson said. “Having their own casino would be about half-a-billion dollars in revenue to the city. That’s money that they don’t have to take from us. And it will help them to attract more conventions and keep more money in Chicago. There’s really benefits that go statewide from getting this thing done.”