Chicago Mayor Continues Casino Talks

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (l.) has met with legislators to discuss revising Illinois’ expanded gambling bill. Lightfoot says the bill as it stands will discourage investors. And without a Chicago casino, she says, the state can’t fund the governor’s $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital program.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she had “very good conversations” and “made progress” in meetings with Republican and Democratic legislators regarding a Chicago casino.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that the support that was there is solid and that we get the additional votes that we need to get it over,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot contends that the fee and tax structure state lawmakers established under the new gambling law would discourage any private company from investing in a Chicago casino. A state-commissioned study declared the bill’s tax rate was “too onerous” for any company to make a profit.

Also, a report released in early February by the state Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability found total revenue from the state’s 10 existing casinos and the taxes they produce fell for a seventh consecutive year in 2019, raising further questions about the viability of a Chicago casino.

Last fall, Lightfoot unsuccessfully attempted to get state lawmakers to revise the taxes and fee structure in the gambling legislation, but other lawmakers added requests for their communities onto her proposed bill. She also faced accusations of regionalism, and questions about why downstate legislators should help Chicago once again.

Lightfoot now is promoting a similar package but focusing on presenting a “clean” bill. She pointed out without Chicago casino revenue, Governor J.B. Pritzker won’t be able to pay for construction projects in lawmakers’ districts. Pritzker has proposed that Chicago casino revenue pay for 40 percent of construction projects under his $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital program. Lightfoot did not meet with Pritzker during her trip to Springfield.

“For many of the members, particularly for the downstate members, it’s about establishing relationships, introducing myself to them, and listening to the feedback that we got from members, which we will incorporate,” she said.

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said, “It was great to have Mayor Lightfoot in front of our caucus today. She made a compelling case for why it’s important for the whole state that we clean up the gaming bill.”

Besides approving six new casinos, including a Chicago venue, the expanded gambling law allows sports betting, racetrack casinos and increasing the number of video gaming terminals allowed in each establishment from five to six.