Illinois lawmakers, some citizens at odds over gambling expansion

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CHICAGO -- When it comes to pension debt, both the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois are playing bad hands, but some lawmakers believe a casino downtown could produce a jackpot of new revenue -- and they’re moving quickly to pass a gambling expansion bill.

For the second time in as many weeks, state lawmakers held a hearing on gambling expansion in Illinois.

Experts in tourism and video gaming testified about the impact of a potential casino in downtown Chicago.

Representative Bob Rita said that ruling means the stakes are higher.

“Yes it has now changed. Revenue is more of a need today than it was last week," Rita said.

Governor Bruce Rauner was relying on pension savings to balance the budget. With that gone, the conversation turns to casino revenue, which could allow the state and city to deal underfunded pension plans.

“We have a revenue problem, this generates revenue and here's some options of moving forward to solve some of these problems," Rita said.

But anti-gambling activists say a Chicago casino is a false promise.

“Just like the lottery did not solve our school problems, the casino will not solve the problem with our city and our state," said John Alan Boryk, an anti-gambling activist.

Kim Goluska of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of a casino on behalf of the business community, saying it could help generate billions of dollars in additional revenue for Chicago's restaurant, entertainment, convention and retail businesses.

“It's important that you do it right in the heart of the city, where they're staying at the Hilton Hotel, and going to Harry Caray's for lunch and shopping at Macy's and shopping at the Millennium Park garage, all of a sudden it spreads the wealth around," Goluska said.
Others are worried that the ultimate impact of a Chicago casino would be to prey on the poor.

“We would not attract the high rollers. The customers would be the persons in the neighborhoods, who can ill afford it," said pastor Myron McCoy.

Last week Governor Rauner said he was open to a Chicago casino.

There are two bills circulating in Springfield, but the legislature has only 20 days to figure it out. The legislative session is over at the end of the month.

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