Springtime in Chicago

May 11, 2015Alerts Gaming Alert

For the past 20 years, springtime in Chicago has meant one thing: the introduction of a Chicago casino bill in the Illinois legislature. This year is no exception.

To set the stage for our 2015 spring legislative session (which is scheduled to close at the end of May) one needs to be aware of certain realities in the state. First, Chicago’s mayor and the new Illinois governor are “friends,” past business associates and overall have a better working relationship than we have experienced in a number of years. Second, we are at the head of the class for our unfunded pension liability in both the state and the city. Finally, on May 8, 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Pension Reform Bill (which in part sought to reduce certain retirement benefits) that was passed in 2014, is unconstitutional.

So, with that as a backdrop, lawmakers are again trying to pass legislation to allow for a Chicago casino. The mayor wants a casino and the governor is on record stating that he is “very open” to a Chicago casino. The mayor’s idea is to keep as much of the profit as possible in order to fund the city’s pension.

While there are a number of shell bills (a bill with no substantive provisions, but can later be amended with actual legislative proposals), two substantive bills have already been introduced. The first bill, House Bill 2939, is for a Chicago-only casino, that the state of Illinois will own, and a manager will be selected to run it. It can have up to 10,000 gaming positions.

The second bill, House Bill 3564, provides for five new casinos: Chicago (4000 - 6000 gaming positions), south suburbs of Chicago (1200 positions), Lake County (1200 positions), Winnebago County (which includes Rockford) (1200 positions) and Vermillion County (which includes Danville) (1200 positions). The bill also allows race tracks in Cook County to have up to 600 slot machines and those outside of Cook County to have up to 450 slot machines each. However, Fairmont race track (in southern Illinois) is excluded (purportedly until they can work out a deal with the existing Casino Queen Casino).

A “Chicago-only casino” bill is unlikely to garner enough votes to pass. Then the issue becomes will the governor sign a major expansion bill?

Stay tuned, as we will keep you posted on developments, what the various bills include and the likelihood of passage.

For more information regarding this alert, please contact Donna B. More at 312.517.9215 or [email protected], William Bogot at 312.517.9205 or [email protected] or any member of the firm’s Gaming Practice.