Proposed Illinois Casino Ban Stalled for 2005

A proposal by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to ban riverboat gambling in Illinois has been dry-docked in the state Senate.

The measure passed the House 67-42 during an abbreviated fall veto session. However, Senate president Emil Jones, a Chicago Democrat who has urged expansion of gaming, didn't permit the House-passed bill to be heard in the Senate.

The bill remains technically alive for possible consideration when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

In defending the legislation, Madigan said a few politically connected wheeler-dealers have benefited disproportionately from the casino boats. "I think we should go back to the drawing board and start over," he said.

There was widespread speculation about Madigan's actual motives in floating the proposal, because not even the harshest critics of gaming expected the bill to win Senate approval. Gaming provides more than $750 million a year in revenue to the state, and Madigan's plan provided no alternative revenue source.

There are nine active riverboats in Illinois. Gaming legislation passed in 1999 authorized the transfer of a dormant 10th license to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, near O'Hare International Airport.

A portion of the proceeds from that boat were earmarked by the 1999 legislation to support horse racing. However, the license transfer has been tied up in massive legal wrangling and appears unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Illinois racetrack officials have lobbied the past several years for the right to install slot machines on their premises as an alternative to the riverboat entitlement. Those proposals sank without a trace during the past two legislative sessions amid wrangling about a new land-based casino proposed for downtown Chicago by Mayor Richard Daley.

Madigan's proposal could serve as the basis for a new attempt to restructure the state's gaming laws. Political insiders, however, said it is more likely his intent was to distance himself from gaming interests, and to let Democratic members from conservative downstate districts cast a "free" vote against gaming.