Ill. Senate president moves to repeal video gambling law
BY DAVE MCKINNEYAND STEPHEN DIBENEDETTO Sun-Times Staff Reporters March 16, 2011 1:02PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
SPRINGFIELD — In a surprise move, Senate President John Cullerton Wednesday took steps to gut the controversial 2009 authorization of video gambling machines in bars and restaurants throughout the state.
The measure, if passed by both chambers of the Legislature and enacted by Gov. Quinn, would represent a 180-degree shift from when video gaming was regarded as a $534 million cash cow to support the governor’s $31 billion capital program.
Since video gambling was authorized statewide, Chicago refused to permit it in the city, and 80 local governments opted out entirely, raising questions about the program’s financial viability.
In late January, more doubts were cast on the future of video gambling when a state appeals court ruled the law that allowed for it and other tax and fee hikes to pay for the construction program was unconstitutional.
“It’s obviously a very controversial plan. It has yet to generate a single dollar for the capital program. Right now, the Senate president is gauging whether there is sufficient support to repeal it,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
Cullerton’s move, widely interpreted as a shot at Republicans who brought video poker to the table in 2009, has an uncertain shelf life because his efforts to reassemble a revenue stream for the stricken capital program stalled at the Capitol Wednesday.
Cullerton (D-Chicago) proposed raising the state’s 98-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes by $1 as a substitute — an initiative that advanced out of the Senate Executive Committee Wednesday on a 9-6 party-line vote.
But the top Senate Democrat delayed an expected floor vote on the cigarette tax hike when it became apparent that he was short of votes within his own caucus and got no support from Republicans.
“We don’t need to do this now,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). “We will not miss the construction season. Bonds have been issued. We are in good shape with this.”
Cullerton made clear he didn’t intend to seek a vote on a video gambling repeal until seeing how the cigarette tax hike fared in the House, where it failed in January. But after Wednesday’s wheel-spinning, it was not entirely certain he could move the cigarette tax hike out of his own chamber, generating considerable doubt about the likelihood of anything happening with video gambling.
The Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association expressed dismay at Cullerton’s legislative assault on its industry.
“We’re certainly surprised to see this.,” said Zack Stamp, a lobbyist for the group. “People have been out there working on the assumption this would be the law. They’ve invested millions of dollars, hiring people. People have been anticipating this coming online, and this will cause a great deal of problems if it’s repealed.”
In fact, since video gambling was authorized, the Illinois Gaming Board has added about 50 investigators to do background checks on 116 license applicants and had estimated the first video gambling machines would be functioning by late summer or early fall.