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Bill to build Chicago casino and allow online gaming passes Senate panel

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SPRINGFIELD-Just two days after Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a gambling expansion bill, a Senate panel advanced a similar bill Wednesday that would bring a casino to Chicago and allow online video gaming, with profits going to fund education and the state pension system.

Having supposedly received the thumbs-up for the program from the federal government, state legislators moved the online video gaming proposal known as iGaming under a broader gambling expansion bill through the Senate Executive Committee by a 10-4 vote.

The iGaming proposal is the latest addition in a gaming expansion bill, and this most recent bill also includes up to 4,000 new gaming machines in Chicago that could be used on land or water and even at airports. The bill also provides for more than 2,000 new machines at racetracks, 1,200 of which would be allowed in Cook County.

In addition to a Chicago casino, the bill mimics previous legislation in allowing four more casinos to be built in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and the south Chicago suburbs. Committee members say they had only two hours to look over the more than 500 pages of gaming legislation, which appears to be on a fast track to the Senate floor where it is expected to pass.

Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), the bill's sponsor, estimates the state could see about $150 million from iGaming, all of which would help fund state pensions. Revenue from new machines at casinos and racetracks could generate $200 million to $400 million, which Link said would be used to fund education programs.

He also told the committee that similar online gaming programs already exist in Nevada and New Jersey, and at least two states - California and Delaware - are considering them.

"It would be like video poker and types of games like that," Link said. "You know, like what they're doing right now in foreign countries. They're offshore betting.

"You put your credit card up there, you put X amount of dollars up there and you can bet. But this would be precluded to Illinois only. I couldn't bet with Nevada or New Jersey. It's Illinois residents in Illinois."

In recently approving online Lottery games in the state, federal authorities also consented to iGaming as long as no sports betting would be allowed, Link said. The Illinois Department of Lottery would administer and oversee the program and could issue licenses to anyone who already holds a gaming or wagering license in the state.

Anita Bedell of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems testified against the legislation. Bedell classified the federal government's consent to iGaming as "muddy water" and thinks the online program will lack proper protection for children.

"How are they gonna track that?" Bedell asked. "How are they gonna control all that. You know, it's the Internet. People are anonymous.

"The public does not want this...and again it's the children. There's no stop on the Internet. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There's no controls there."

The committee hearing came just a couple of hours after Quinn gave his annual budget address to the General Assembly, in which he suggested any new gaming revenue should fund education, including teachers' pensions.

After vetoing a gaming expansion bill this summer, Quinn again rejected a similar bill on Monday, claiming it lacked ethical oversight and regulation. However, neither of those two bills contained any online video gaming measures.

The gaming measure is expected to move to the Senate floor Thursday for a floor vote, but any bill must also pass the House before moving to Quinn's desk.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the House's point person on gaming, indicated the governor might not be ready to sign such a bill.

"I have made myself available to the governor for the last several years on gaming," Lang said. "The one or two meetings I've been invited to in his office have not been recent, and they've been meetings that have not moved us forward on the discussion."

Lang also said he has been told by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) that Cullerton believes he has "more than sufficient votes" to pass the bill in the Senate.

Within the crystal ball of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the bill's chances "might be pretty good" and there "might be a gaming bill."

"I'm not certain how it will be received in the House because I'm not sure of the details of the bill," Madigan told Illinois Lawmakers, a public television program, Wednesday.

"There seems to be more cooperation now among all participants."

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