By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Efforts in the Illinois House to pass a bill authorizing land-based casinos took a sharp turn Monday when a key committee voted to strip out the contents of a Senate-passed bill and send it back to the full House in a form that lawmakers call a “shell bill.”
One source familiar with the negotiations said that likely means lawmakers are working on a single, “omnibus” gambling bill that will have provisions dealing with sports betting, expanded casino operations and possibly higher taxes on video gambling, all of which are items Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others in the General Assembly have suggested as ways to raise additional money for the state.
In its original form, Senate Bill 516 would have expanded the authority of the Illinois Gaming Board to regulate both riverboat gambling and “casino” gambling.
Under current law, “riverboats” are defined as self-propelled excursion boats or one or more permanently moored barges on which gambling is authorized or licensed. There are 10 riverboat casinos operating in Illinois.
A “casino” would be defined as any facility in which lawful gaming is authorized, meaning it would not have to be attached to a body of water. The bill also would authorize existing riverboat casinos to relocate to other areas, opening the possibility of a casino in the Chicago area.
Meanwhile, casino corporations have been pushing for years for permission to move beyond the riverboat market to allow for full land-based casinos elsewhere in the state. Their efforts have intensified in recent years since Illinois legalized video gaming terminals, which the casinos argue have “cannibalized” their business.
In his budget proposal to the General Assembly in February, Pritzker did not specifically call for expanding casino gambling in Illinois, but he did call for legalizing sports betting, which the U.S. Supreme Court authorized in a decision last year. His office estimates that could bring in $200 million in licensing fees for next year’s budget.
He also proposed raising the marginal tax rate on video game operators with incomes over $2.5 million to 50 percent instead of the current 30 percent, which would generate an estimated $89 million a year in revenue for capital projects.
Lawmakers are now scrambling to meet the scheduled end of the 2019 spring session on Friday. Bills that fail to pass during the spring session could be resurrected in the November veto session or, more likely, be considered again in the 2020 regular session.
The Illinois House on Monday passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would prohibit local governments and local law enforcement agencies from entering into certain kinds of agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to enforce federal immigration laws.
House Bill 1637, known as the Keep Illinois Families Together Act, would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from participating in ICE’s “287(g) program.” The name comes from a 1996 addition to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act that allows local law enforcement to be deputized into federal service to help identify, arrest and serve detainer warrants on foreign-born individuals with criminal charges or convictions.
“These types of programs have been well documented and recorded as injecting bias and ethnic stereotyping into policing practices,” said Rep. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago), who carried the bill on the House floor. “Because of this, and despite many protective policies in place in our state, families continue to be afraid to seek police protection. This is a huge public safety issue.”
Some Republicans spoke against the bill, including Rep. Allen Skillicorn, of East Dundee, who called it, “full-on sanctuary.”
“First off, they broke federal law by coming in here illegally,” he said. “Second off, they’re already in the system. Some of these people are domestic robbers, domestic abusers. These are not nice people and effectively, we’re letting some of them just go off in the streets.”
Villanueva could be seen gasping on camera when Skillicorn used the term “not nice people,” echoing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric from the 2016 campaign.
“I am an immigrant rights organizer who saw and has witnessed the atrocity of what’s happening in this nation,” Villanueva said in an emotional response. “Not just to immigrants who have been in this country for years and decades, but to asylum-seekers who are coming to this country seeking refuge.”
The bill passed, 67-to-50, and now moves to the Senate.