By Andrew Thomason Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Gaming expansion in Illinois hasn’t hit a jackpot, but the odds are moving in its favor.
A plan allowing four new downstate casinos, one in Chicago, and electronic gaming at six race tracks was passed out of an Illinois Senate committee Tuesday afternoon.
But the different factions of the gaming industry in Illinois have very different opinions about the legislation.
Tom Swoik, a lobbyist who represents most of the casinos in the state, said this expansion would flood an already saturated market. More gaming in the state would only serve to hurt the existing industry, which would in turn hurt the state’s cut, Swoik said.
“It just does not make good business sense to expand an industry in a shrinking market at a time when revenues are already down almost a third. We’ve lost over 30 percent of our business while the surrounding states have held steady or had minimal losses,” Swoik said.
New gaming will only exacerbate the industry’s existing problems, Swoik said.
Former state Sen. Robert Molaro, representing the Hawthorne Race Course Inc., said that isn’t the case, and that the state isn’t close to a saturation point for gaming.
Instead, he said the expansion would create construction and service jobs.
“This is just common sense … we’re going to put hundreds if not thousands to work,” Molaro said.
Sen. James Clayborne Jr. raised a concern that if a race track started to make more money from electronic gaming, it would make business sense to shift from a focus on racing to a focus on electronic gaming. Clayborne, an East St. Louis Democrat, has the Casino Queen in his district.
Molaro pointed to language in the legislation that requires tracks to run a minimum number of races per year.
Gaming expansion can be a hard sell, and this particular bill has yet to be considered by the full Senate — which could happen as early as tomorrow– and the House of Representatives.