SPRINGFIELD – A plan to establish five new casinos in Illinois, including in Chicago, was killed Friday as the bill's sponsor decided not to call it for a House vote with just hours left in the legislative session.
The proposal had been stalled for weeks over negotiations on oversight of a Chicago casino and started to lose steam as the longtime sponsor dropped his name from the bill last week, leaving new sponsor Rep. Robert Rita just days to navigate a 500-some page bill with the clock ticking.
"We've been working every day since this has been switched over," Rita, a Blue Island Democrat, told reporters Friday. "However, I regret to announce I will not be calling the bill for a vote this session."
Rita said comments from Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe were one of the reasons he decided not to call it for a vote. The chairman earlier this week suggested to The Associated Press that the Chicago casino be separated out of the bill altogether because of all the issues.
While all the other four proposed casinos – in Rockford, Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County – would report to the state board, most of the Chicago casino's oversight would fall to the Chicago Casino Development Authority, a board of mayoral appointees.
Jaffe said that left the door open to corruption and the Illinois Gaming Board should have oversight on bidding and contracts.
The proposal also called for numerous slot machines, including at both Chicago airports, and set aside revenues for certain groups, like economically depressed communities. But in recent days, Rita moved to strip out all the language and was drafting several versions addressing other issues.
Rita had focused his tweaks on changing tax rates and issues of transparency. Also recently, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had requested that county government get revenue. Rita said these were major issues.
"This bill was not ready; it wasn't right," he said.
Gambling expansion measures have seen a difficult road. Lawmakers have twice approved plans but Gov. Pat Quinn has vetoed two in a row citing a lack of ethical protections.
But this measure had been seen as the best chance yet.
Quinn said earlier this year in a major speech that he'd support a plan with proper ethical protections, money for schools and if lawmakers sent him a pension overhaul first. Also, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied hard for the casino, pledging that all revenues would go to Chicago Public Schools.
Lawmakers had taken Quinn's suggestions in the latest draft, including adding a ban on political contribution from the industry.
Later on, Quinn said he wanted more strict oversight of the Chicago casino, including that the state board approve the bidding process for the operator, location, master plan and contracts.
Then last week, the longtime backer of gambling legislation, Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, dropped sponsorship over a "perceived conflict of interest." The suburban Chicago law firm where he's counsel did some unrelated work for the city of Rockford, which Lang said could look like a conflict of interest even though he didn't think it was.
Rita said being brought in late made it "difficult not knowing the history."
He did add that he hopes to start working on another proposal.