With a budget deadline to attempt closing a roughly $6 billion shortfall weeks away, top Illinois leaders and lawmakers are putting the spotlight on revenue-generating plans to increase the number of casinos and slot machines in the state.
Two Chicago hearings — one on Monday and the other planned for next week — are drawing on experts to mull proposals, a move that comes as attention to a possible Chicago casino appears to be heightened.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has advocated for a city casino for years. In 2013 he released a video pledging all revenues would go to schools. More recently, he's been in talks with Senate President John Cullerton, according to Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon.
Gov. Bruce Rauner, who's said he wouldn't object to more casinos if communities wanted them, specifically noted Chicago during a stop in the city Monday.
"I know the city would very much like to have a significant casino within the city boundaries and I am very open to considering that," he said. "I want to make sure that it's good for all the taxpayers and all the citizens, both of Chicago and the state of Illinois when we have that discussion."
Emanuel is interested in a city-owned casino so "all profits are reinvested in Chicago and Illinois residents" over private business, Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said in a statement Monday. She noted Chicago's underfunded pensions systems could benefit from such a setup.
House Speaker Mike Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, would only say that Madigan has previously recused himself on casino votes.
The plans before lawmakers include one calling for a state-owned Chicago casino. Another would also add four casinos in Chicago's south suburbs and Vermillion, Winnebago and Lake counties. More legislation, including for a Chicago-owned casino, could emerge by the end of May when lawmakers face a budget deadline for the fiscal year starting in July. Revenue estimates for five new casinos have ranged from $450 million to more than $1 billion.
Illinois has turned to gambling as a way to boost revenue before, including video gambling in recent years. But attempts to increase casinos failed when former Gov. Pat Quinn twice vetoed plans.
Casino supporters say they've made changes and want input. Experts from research firms, Kentucky's Churchill Downs Inc. and anti-gambling groups testified Monday.