FILE - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks to reporters after meeting with House Democrats for an hour at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

In a show of frustration over the lack of support for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposed changes that would have allowed a casino there, Chicago lawmakers pulled their support and asked for others to do the same on a bill that, had it failed, could have held up the state’s other casinos and the rollout of sports gambling. 

When an amended Senate Bill 222 was called in the House, Chicago lawmakers began cryptically prodding state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, about why it was being called, why another bill wasn’t being considered, and whether he could alter his bill to inject language into it. 

Soon, it became clear that the Chicago lawmakers were frustrated with the lack of support from those outside of the city on Senate Bill 516, an amended bill that contained the changes Lightfoot said she’d need to get a Chicago casino off the ground. 

It soon became clear that they were lobbying others not to support Rita’s bill, which made changes requested by the state gaming board and the FBI to allow for proper fingerprinting of those applying for gaming and operator licenses. Failure of the seemingly innocuous bill could have had consequences across the state, namely a wrench in the gears of gambling revenue needed to fund the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan. 

“We want a Chicago casino. Put it at the Thompson Center. We’d love to see that,” said Republican state Rep. Tim Butler. “But if we don’t pass this bill, it holds up Williamson County, it holds up Danville, it holds up Waukegan, it holds up South Suburban, it holds up Rockford, and it holds up sports wagering.”

Chicago lawmakers contended that those opposing the casino bill were endangering the state’s infrastructure bill as well.  

“You’re right, this is a simple technical bill and the reality is that this could jeopardize the vertical capital projects,” said Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “But, do you know what else is going to jeopardize the vertical capital projects? Not having a Chicago casino.” 

Butler and other Republicans said they were disrespected by Lightfoot not reaching out to them for support. In the Senate hearing on the legislation, Republicans were upset that the changes Chicago was seeking involved a small cut to the city’s tax rates but a significant cut to the revenue the state would receive. This, some said, would have left infrastructure projects in question. 

Lightfoot later released a statement on the stalled effort. 

“While we are disappointed that a much-needed fix to the gaming bill won’t be made during this compressed veto session, the Chicago casino is still very much in the sightline thanks to the progress we’ve made with our state partners,” she said. “While this delay does not impact the City’s FY 2020 budget, this fiscal challenge looms large for FY 2021 and thereafter.”

The bill narrowly passed before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.