UPDATED 06/30/11 6:22 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. Pat Quinn continues to insist he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll sign that major Illinois gambling expansion bill.
On Wednesday night, backers and opponents of the plan that would put a casino in Chicago and slot machines at O’Hare and Midway had their say.
CBS 2’s Mike Parker reports.
Senate Bill 744 would license five additional casinos in Illinois, including a huge land-based facility in the city of Chicago. Slot machines would also be allowed at race tracks and in the terminals of airports, including O’Hare and Midway.
Will casino gambling help Chicago climb out of the economic doldrums or will it mean the economic ruin of countless gamblers and their families? That question was central at the Better Government Association debate featuring opponents and the lawmaker, Illinois State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who wrote the bill and saw it through the legislature.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports
Lang told a crowd of 200 people, “It would create or save 90,000 jobs just in the gaming industry, not to mention new restaurants and new hotels, new shopping malls, new infrastructure.”
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports, Lang also said those who would gamble are now doing so elsewhere.
“Ninety-five percent of the people at those casinos are from the state of Illinois,” Lang said. “They live in Illinois, but their spending money in Indiana.”
But gambling opponent, Rev. Phillip Blackwell of Chicago, worries about what will happen when the city runs its own gambling joint, when the city itself becomes “the House” gamblers play against.
“The ‘House’ always wins and studies show that gamblers in a casino would come from Chicago,” he said. “So the very people that are elected to serve and protect are now in the position of having to cannibalize their own people.”
Blackwell also says the legislation is top heavy.
“It should just go back to the drawing board, just start over,” he said. “This is not a necessary piece of legislation at this point.”
Anita Bedell with the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems says studies show that more gambling just causes more problems like foreclosure, crime and corruption.
“In this study, they found out you should expect that 60 percent of the gamblers to be local residents. If you have local residents gambling and losing money, that’s less money they’ll be spending in retail, on cars, on homes on food,” Bedell said.
Jerry Prosapio watched the debate with more than slight interest. He’s a recovering gambling addict.
“It actually went as far,” he said, “as my taking a Mafia loan out. I missed a payment and he came to my home and made a direct threat on my infant son.”
Lang told the crowd, “These social costs will endure and be here whether or not we pass this bill because the people from our city, our county, our community are going elsewhere and they’re still gambling.”
The gambling expansion bill is supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but opposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who despite the state’s financial woes would rather that gambling be minimized in Illinois.
Quinn says he will take the summer to listen to both sides of the issue before he makes a decision. Lang.