Illinois Ready to Push For Casinos, Says New Governor

The interior of the Illinois Capitol
Illinois’ incoming governor believes opening casinos could fill the state’s budget holes

30-second summary

  • Incoming governor JB Pritzker says gambling could fund state services
  • Casinos could bring dollars to poorer towns
  • A capital bill would pay for state infrastructure
  • Outgoing mayor says a Chicago casino would pay for pensions

Casinos could fill budget hole

The incoming Governor of Illinois believes expanded gambling could help the state mend an ailing budget and fund a capital bill.

JB Pritzker, who took the oath as the 43rd Governor of Illinois on January 15, said during a Sunday interview for the Belleville News-Democrat that new casinos and expanded gaming could help the state improve its infrastructure and boost its ailing budget.

This is not the first time that an incoming governor has indicated they support the idea of the addition of new casinos and new gambling options in Illinois.

During his campaign last year, Pritzker said that sports betting was something the state should consider. He pointed to other states that had legalized the practice following the US Supreme Court’s decision to lift a federal wagering ban, and where sports gambling had proved to be “a revenue generator” in those states.

Pritzker said yesterday that “there certainly are opportunities […] to expand casino gaming” and expanded gaming would not be just about “revenue enhancements”, but also about bringing “efficiencies to the state government.”

Asked whether he agreed that there was cannibalization in Illinois’ gambling market, the incoming governor said that there indeed has been “some cannibalization”, but that selecting the right locations for any new casinos was instrumental to the potential gaming expansion.

Casino expansion plans and capital bill

Pritzker said yesterday: “Where you put a casino matters to how many dollars might flow.” He implied to places that have not seen dollars flow before. He added that if casino expansion is approved by state legislators, gambling venues should be located in places near the state border to keep gambling money within Illinois.

According to the state’s new highest ranking official, new casinos could help fund a potential capital bill. Discussions for the introduction of the piece of legislation began last fall and Pritzker has been among the heavy campaigners supporting the move.

The bill would fund construction and repair projects for what many have been referring to as the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Pritzker said he would look to secure enough money for roads outside Chicago, Cook County, and the collar counties.

Casino expansion in the state has been a topic in every legislative session in recent years. Under the most recent effort, a sweeping bill to overhaul gambling would have allowed for the addition of up to six casinos around Illinois, including one in Chicago. The push failed to gain traction in the legislature.

The pension gap

The city’s outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel revealed late last year that he would make one last push to bring a casino to the Windy City. He had lobbied for a gambling venue for several years, seeking much-needed revenue for the city’s pension system.

There was a strong bill championed by State Representative Robert Rita and others, there were hearings, and there was widespread support for the sports betting part of the bill. Online poker and casino games were also included in that gambling expansion bill, along with new casinos and more video gaming terminals.

Online poker supporters looked to Illinois as a strong possibility for legalization, as possibly the next state to join New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Delaware in offering internet poker.

Although Rita held two important hearings in 2018 and believed he had the bill that would make it over the finish line, it didn’t. The legislation died without any surprise movement late in the year.

However, most analysts have put Illinois on the list of states most likely to pass online gambling and sports betting legislation in 2019. And the state’s new governor is ready to board that train.

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