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.

Illinois lawmakers were only five voters away from reaching a deal to build a Chicago casino, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said this week in a discussion about her lobbying trip to Springfield last month. 

An amended Senate Bill 669 was the target that Lightfoot and other Chicago lawmakers couldn’t get across the finish line. The bill would have removed costs that were to be put on a potential developer of a Chicago casino, increase the city's share of casino revenue, and lower the amount of potential revenue the state would get from a Chicago casino.

Some lawmakers bristled at the changes. They said the bill would have lowered builder costs only at the expense of the state’s cut of gambling revenue, potentially putting projects in the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan at risk.  

But her lobbying efforts hit a roadblock when news broke that a state lawmaker had been arrested for allegedly offering a state senator who had been wearing a federal wiretap a series of bribes in exchange for supporting another piece of gambling legislation.

“It didn’t help that, on the very first day of veto session, there was a criminal charge announced of a legislator around gaming,” Lightfoot told the Economic Club of Chicago. “I felt like at that point we may not even be in the conversation.”

As the veto session came to a close, it became clear that Lightfoot would come up short. She revealed Tuesday just how close it was. 

“By our whip count, we had fifty-five votes in the House and we needed sixty so we were close despite those odds,” she said.

One of the difficulties she said her team ran up against was a legislative effort to add what she called “tinsel to the Christmas tree,” or markup the bill with add-ons they wanted.

“They saw this piece of legislation, particularly around casinos, as their one opportunity to get something that they felt they were promised,” she said. “People came out of the woodwork with their ‘letters to Santa.’ ” 

The impetus for the change in the already passed gambling legislation was a report that said the tax and fee structure for a Chicago casino was too high to attract a developer.

Lightfoot said she was confident an agreement could be reached when lawmakers return to Springfield in 2020. 

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.