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State Lawmakers To Weigh Gambling Expansion

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Photo Of Gamblers Playing The Slots. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Photo Of Gamblers Playing The Slots. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) - Outgoing Illinois lawmakers are heading back to Springfield for their two-week lame duck session, and they hope to decide whether casinos will be coming to Chicago and several suburbs.

Senate Bill 3950, which would to expand legalized gambling in Illinois is sponsored by state Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) and would authorize riverboat casinos in Chicago, as well as south suburban Ford Heights, downstate Danville, and Lake County.

The Senate bill would also allow slot and video poker machines at the state’s racetracks, including 1,200 slots at Arlington Park. It would even add slot machines at O’Hare and Midway international airports.

Link said the plan would ultimately generate $1 billion additional revenue for the state.

South suburban mayors have come out strongly in favor of a casino in Ford Heights.

“This initiative will have the capacity to make an immediate impact with respect to revitalization, rejuvenation and transformation,” Harvey Mayor Eric Kellogg said on Sunday.

The mayors say the south suburban casino will bring jobs to the area. They say it will keep $700 million gambling dollars in Illinois instead of heading to Indiana’s casinos, and it will give those depressed, blighted suburbs a chance.

But many groups are protesting against expanding gambling. On Monday, a coalition of Christian, Jewish and secular activists urged Chicago and Illinois lawmakers to resist any effort to expand gambling in Illinois.

The Rev. Phillip Blackwell, pastor at First United Methodist Church downtown, said the pleasant visions of tax revenues to come never consider the costs of homes lost, families broken and jobs lost to gambling.

The Rev. Tom Grey, adviser to “Stop Predatory Gambling,” said it’s clear Chicago doesn’t need to follow in the footsteps of Detroit, East Saint Louis, Las Vegas and Atlantic City which are finding the promise of gambling never lives up to the reality.

The call for expanded gambling comes as a new report says revenue from gaming in Illinois is the lowest it’s been in 10 years.

The Legislature’s bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability determined that in the last fiscal year, gambling revenue totaled just over $1 billion. That’s a 4.5 percent drop from the previous year.

The drop is “almost entirely” because of decreasing sales at the state’s nine riverboat casinos. Hurt by a struggling economy and competition from other states, the dip represents a “dramatic turnaround” in receipts, the report said.

“However, the numbers continue to suggest that the biggest contributor to the drop in Illinois casino revenues is the indoor smoking ban,” the report concludes.

Gambling industry representatives also say a smoking ban on riverboat casinos is to blame. Since it took effect nearly three years ago, receipts have dropped 28 percent.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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