- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois lawmakers are trying to negotiate a deal to open a Chicago-owned casino and expand gambling elsewhere in the state, and they believe there’s a clearer path for the proposal to become law than there’s been in years.

Sen. Terry Link said he’s working with legislative leaders, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to draft a proposal that Rauner would be willing to sign. The Waukegan Democrat said he’s hoping to introduce a bill “very soon.”

Rauner has indicated he’s more open to expanding gambling than his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who twice vetoed casino bills. Rauner also has replaced Quinn’s pick to lead the Illinois Gaming Board, who actively worked to derail previous proposals.

But one likely sticking point is how revenue from a Chicago casino would be divided between the city and the state.

Having a new Republican governor at the table also means changes must be made to previous gambling proposals. Those plans also called for slot machines at horse racing tracks and casinos in Rockford, Lake County, Vermilion County and Chicago’s south suburbs.

“You have a different governor who has different viewpoints of something, so I think that’s playing into the scenario,” Link said. “In the past we tried to get things in there that Gov. Quinn would be for. Now we’ve got to get things in there that Gov. Rauner will be pleased with.”

Link declined to say what those changes might be, and Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf wouldn’t comment beyond the governor’s recent statements that he’s “very open” to considering a Chicago casino.

Emanuel wants Chicago to keep much of the profits from a casino, minus some taxes paid to the state, to help cover soaring city pension costs. Chicago has the worst-funded pension system of any major U.S. city, and is facing a nearly $600 million increase in its payment to its funds next year.

But Illinois has serious money troubles of its own, with a roughly $6 billion deficit in the budget that begins July 1, and Rauner has signaled he’s not likely to support a plan that benefits Chicago at the expense of the rest of the state.

“I want to make sure that it’s good for all the taxpayers and all the citizens, both of Chicago and the state of Illinois when we have that discussion,” he said earlier this week.

Democratic Rep. Bob Rita has been pushing two separate pieces of gambling legislation, including a measure to put a state-owned casino in Chicago and split the revenue evenly between the city and the state. He also said he doesn’t believe there will be enough support in the General Assembly for a bill that allows Chicago to “keep everything.”

“That’s absolutely insane,” Rita said.

A spokeswoman for Emanuel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Rita and other House lawmakers on Monday will hold the second of two public hearings on gambling expansion in Chicago. Monday’s hearing is expected to focus on the tourism and economic benefits of a large Chicago casino.

Revenue estimates for five new casinos have ranged from $450 million to more than $1 billion.

Another concern raised by Rauner and other legislators is whether new casinos and slots would strip money from the state’s existing riverboat casinos, or over-saturate the market. That could lead to a scaled-back proposal.

Legislators also caution that gambling proposals have been pitched almost annually in recent years, but were unsuccessful, and there’s still major work to be done on other issues such as the budget before the session ends May 31. Rauner also could try to tie his support for new gambling to his pro-business, anti-union “turnaround agenda,” which would further complicate negotiations.

Still, supporters remain hopeful.

“There is progress and it has a momentum,” Rita said.

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