Governor, Attorney General Oppose Illinois Gaming Expansion

Prospects for expansion of gaming in Illinois, possibly including slot machines for the state's race tracks, took a double hit as two of the state's top elected officials announced their opposition.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said at a Springfield news conference he opposes and would veto any legislation authorizing a land-based casino in downtown Chicago. Mayor Richard M. Daley announced a day earlier he would seek legislative approval for such a facility.

Also, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Tuesday she will seek to revoke a currently inactive riverboat casino license that was earmarked for Rosemont, near O'Hare International Airport, with a slice of the profits earmarked for racetracks.

Daley's announcement was seen as the keystone in a package of gaming legislation that would have helped both the city and state balance their fiscal 2005 budgets. Racetrack operators have been poised for months to seek on-track slot machines as part of that package - if necessary, as a trade-off for their share of the proposed Rosemont casino profits.

Blagojevich said the nine existing Illinois riverboat casinos have been licensed and sited in communities that need economic help. A Chicago casino, he said, would significantly change the nature of gaming in Illinois. "It's not my vision for the kind of state Illinois should be," he said.

However, with the state still short of funds and a scheduled May 21 legislative adjournment looming, there is still plenty of room for maneuvering. Blagojevich did not close the door on plans by Senate President Emil Jones to authorize two new riverboat licenses, targeted for the south and north suburbs of Chicago. That legislation still could be used as a vehicle to carry racetrack interests.

The attorney general's announcement also could provide impetus for passage of some type of revenue-producing legislation. Blagojevich has been counting on revenue from the Rosemont casino since he prepared the current year's state budget a year ago He admitted Tuesday that Madigan's announcement all but ends hope for immediate revenue from that project.

Blagojevich, Daley, Jones and Madigan are all Democrats. The attorney general's father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, has not yet taken a position on gaming expansion.