Legislation to expand gaming in Illinois remains alive as the legislature nears the scheduled adjournment date for its spring session. House Speaker Michael Madigan upped the ante by announcing Wednesday, May 24, that House Democrats see gaming as the most attractive source of new revenue for the state.
However, Madigan refused to discuss what he would want to see in a gaming package and warned against making such a plan too broad. Supporters appear to have new casinos at the top of their wish list, with race track slot machines lower down among priorities.
Lawmakers are seeking new ways to generate revenue since Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed $7 billion gross receipts tax legislation appears to have sunk without a trace amid almost universal opposition. The governor has promised to veto any other new tax proposal, leaving gaming expansion among the few alternatives to fund even a “maintenance” budget.
Asked specifically whether any particular type of gaming expansion, such as slots at racetracks, would appeal to his Democrat majority in the House, Madigan said, “I think the attraction would be capital. Many people in the legislature are interested in more money for roads and bridges and mass transit capital, school constructions funds, construction of buildings at universities – many people would view gaming as a good way to accomplish that goal.”
Asked again what components would have to be in the bill to win passage, the speaker said, “I’m not going to speculate today. I think you’d have to start from what you want to fund.”
But he sent a clear message that a gaming bill will have to be focused and targeted to have any chance of passage.
“My approach,” Madigan said, “would be to work with anybody in the legislature concerning a bill that would pass. Gaming is extremely contentious. I’ve worked through two gaming bills (that were) extremely contentious, extremely difficult. Conditions now are radically different from what they were when those two bills passed. So I would just suggest if anybody’s interested that they narrow their focus on this.”
He said 41 Democrats indicated in caucus they would favor gaming expansion as a generic concept. With 60 votes needed for passage, Madigan would need support from Senate Republican Leader Tom Cross to pass a bill.
“My conversations with Mr. Cross were about gaming for capital,” Madigan said. ”I have an interest in that and he does also. I expect that we’ll have further conversations.”
The session is scheduled to end by May 31 but the impasse over revenue and the budget has cast serious doubt on the achievability of that goal.