Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), pictured here (bottom, right) at the Capitol Wednesday, discussed two major areas of dispute standing in the way of passing his gambling expansion bill, which includes a casino in Chicago. Also pictured (clockwise from Rita) are Reps. Will Davis (D-Homewood), Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields), Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City) and Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights). (photo by Zach Buchheit/Sun-Times Media)
SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House Democrats Wednesday revealed two major hiccups in an effort to bring a casino to Chicago, including who will regulate it and how its revenue will be allotted in Cook County, stalling the perennially-sought gambling expansion legislation in the House.
The first of the two roadblocks surfaced Tuesday when Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe said the gambling bill did not contain nearly enough ethical oversight and that a bid for a Chicago casino should be severed from the larger bill.
But Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island), the bill's lead House sponsor, said removing Chicago from the bill would most definitely subtract enough votes to kill the bill altogether.
"Let me be clear," Rita told reporters Wednesday. "Chicago is going to be in this bill."
The problem with Jaffe's remarks is it's unclear if the board chairman is solely speaking for himself or on behalf of Gov. Pat Quinn too, Rita said. And the issue needs to be resolved soon with an impending Friday, May 31 deadline to send the bill to Quinn.
Jaffe's primary beef with the bill is that it calls for the Chicago casino to be regulated by a separate board appointed by the mayor, but Rita did not appear likely to budge on that issue.
Rita said it seems like the gaming board wants to have "total control of a Chicago casino...even what kind of coffee shop should be on the footprint, whether it's a Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts."
Jaffe, a former legislator in Springfield, has been at odds with the bill's drafters all spring, most recently after the Senate passed its version earlier this month. That bill would bring a casino to Chicago and casinos to the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville.
The legislation also would outfit racetracks, and potentially Chicago's two airports, with slot machines. Rita said the bill's framework would not change, but he is still negotiating how much of the revenue the state would take and how many slots would be allowed at airports.
Rita said he has requested a meeting with the Illinois Gaming Board but hasn't gotten a response and said he has been working with Quinn's staff but not with Quinn directly.
Asked why Quinn - who since 2011 has vetoed two other versions of the bill - isn't involved, Rita answered, "I don't know. I can't answer that question."
The other major stumbling block to the bill's passage comes from a request by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for a portion of the Chicago casino's revenue to go to the county.
South suburban state Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) agreed the suburbs should see some of the cash but said Mayor Rahm Emanuel "has essentially indicated to [Preckwinkle] that that's not a deal that he's willing to accept."
"That's a deal-breaker for us here in the south suburbs," Davis said. "We feel that this bill is about shared sacrifice and needed compromise. Cook County should not just benefit only from a south suburban boat. Last time I checked the map, Chicago was also in Cook County."
Preckwinkle's office said its position has been consistent throughout the spring's gambling talks.
"If there's going to be a gaming bill in the General Assembly this year, we believe Cook County should be the recipient of a percentage of the revenue from each new venue in the county," Preckwinkle spokesperson Kristen Mack said. "Any revenue would be dedicated to public safety and public health issues."
Emanuel's office would not say if the mayor and Preckwinkle are talking. But it did seem to indicate Emanuel's mind is made up, saying Cook County already will "directly benefit" from a casino by way of its recently passed tax on gaming positions.
"Mayor Emanuel will use 100 percent of the proceeds from a Chicago casino to improve and modernize our public schools for our children, providing them with a 21st-century learning environment equipped with amenities like new computer and science labs and air-conditioned classrooms for all our students," Emanuel spokesperson Sarah Hamilton said.
Davis said Emanuel and Preckwinkle need to strike a deal soon for the bill to move forward but said it's a discussion that doesn't necessarily involve state lawmakers.
"Hopefully, they're talking," Davis said. "I can't speak for what kind of dialogue they've had...hopefully, they're on the phone right now talking."
Meanwhile, Rita expressed difficulty in jumping the political hurdles since he only just took the helm of the gambling plan last week. The move came after Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) dropped his name from the bill, citing a potential conflict of interest.
Still, Rita said he plans to call the bill by Friday.
"This is something that is a multibillion-dollar economic boost for the state of Illinois with money going into education, going into back-bills," he said. "But it needs to be reasonable, regulated, right legislation. It's not just about [getting] 60 votes to pass a bill. It's about putting a bill together that's right."