No Online Gambling In Illinois Until Land-Based Casino Expansion Settled, Says Senate President

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According to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, residents of the Land of Lincoln aren’t likely to be logging onto regulated online gaming sites anytime soon.

Online inevitable, but land-based comes first

Though Illinois – the fifth largest state in the nation – often appears on short lists of states primed to pass online gambling legislation in the relative near-term, Cullerton said during a Q&A on the state budget that the issue of land-based casino expansion must be addressed first.

When asked about whether or not online gambling is on the agenda of Illinois legislators, Cullerton said, “It’s something that’s going to be here. There’s three states that have it.”

Though Cullerton clearly sees eventual regulation of online gambling in Illinois as a foregone conclusion, he appears far less certain about a timeline.

“I think, though, that we cannot take that issue up until we resolve whether or not we’re going to have new casinos in Illinois and that again is very difficult to predict,” Cullerton remarked.

Full video of the Cullerton Q&A is embedded below. He addresses the casino issue at around the 4:11 mark.

State has long been mulling additional brick and mortar properties

Illinois, a state that has become infamous for its financial precariousness, has long considered adding land-based casino properties. Currently there are ten riverboat casinos in the state.

Last May, a bill that would have allowed for five new casinos as well as the installation of slot machines at the two major Chicagoland airports and horse tracks in the state, died before coming to a vote.

There are currently two proposals being floated that would resurrect the casino issue:

  • The first plan closely resembles the measure that stalled in 2013 and would permit a Chicago casino in addition to four other properties.
  • The second calls for a casino only in Chicago, the proceeds from which would be divided equally between the city and the state.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been a prominent backer of casino expansion in Illinois, having released a video last year in which he pledged that revenue generated by a downtown Chicago casino would be used to help the city’s troubled school system.

Speaking to the land-based casino matter, Cullerton said, “I’m not a fan of gambling, but we have gambling in Illinois – it’s called Hammond, Indiana. Two thirds of the license plates over there are from Illinois. So we’re losing money. We’re helping fund the schools in Indiana, not in Illinois.”

“So we probably should pass something. Problem is, there’s so many different interests. There’s a bunch of folks that don’t believe in gaming, there’s casino interests, there’s horse racing interests, and it’s very hard to thread the needle on that bill,” Cullerton remarked.

Competing interests aren’t the only things that could get in the way of new casino development in the Land of Lincoln.

Gubernatorial wild card

For most of 2013, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat facing re-election this November, said he would be more amenable to the issue once the legislature addressed the state’s crippling public pension deficit, the worst such shortfall in the nation.

Quinn remarked on more than one occasion that he viewed casino expansion as “dessert” and expected legislators to first turn their attention to the meat and potatoes business of a pension overhaul.

With a pension reform bill signed into law last December, undoubtedly there are many in Illinois now reaching for a dessert menu. Whether or not Quinn will around to serve up such a treat, however, remains to be seen.

In November, Quinn will square off against Bruce Rauner, a wealthy suburban businessman who last week won the Republican primary. It is expected to be a heated battle, as the not-so-charismatic Quinn has been accused by many of worsening Illinois’ already serious financial woes.

- Kim focuses on the intersection of online gambling and state regulatory issues in her work for OnlinePokerReport and a variety of other industry publications.
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