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Southland leaders press for casino

Southlleaders meet Monday Tinley Park ConventiCenter make their case for casino. | JSeidel~Sun-Times Media

Southland leaders meet Monday at the Tinley Park Convention Center to make their case for a casino. | Jon Seidel~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 5, 2014 6:16AM



Southland leaders made their case Monday night to host a casino, one of five that could be established around Illinois if a gambling expansion bill being considered in Springfield becomes law.

A panel of lawmakers set up shop for an hours-long public hearing at the Tinley Park Convention Center, taking comments from supporters and opponents of the bill that represents the Legislature’s latest attempt to expand gambling and survive the veto pen of Gov. Pat Quinn.

Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch gave a fiery performance at the hearing, bringing along the chief executive of Cannery Casino Resorts, Bill Paulos, who has proposed a casino in the city and told the legislators “we can put a shovel in the ground tomorrow,” spending upward of $200 million at a site near Interstates 57, 80 and 294.

“We blow everybody out of the water, just on the numbers,” Welch said.

But the panel led by state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, chief sponsor of the gambling bill in the House, also heard from leaders from Calumet City, Dolton, Homewood and East Hazel Crest, among others.

“We are right next to Hammond, Ind.,” said Bryan Swanson, Calumet City’s economic development director. “We want to capture all those dollars that are going into Indiana.”

“I think that we are strategically located to bring those gamers from the city of Chicago into our community that would help us with the 21 percent unemployment that we have,” Dolton Mayor Riley Rogers told the legislators.

The gambling expansion plan would add five casinos, including one in Chicago, as well as slot machines at horse tracks and O’Hare and Midway airports. Current and future casino licensees would also be allowed to apply for online gambling licenses.

Those backing the expansion contend that it could create between $400 million and $1 billion in new revenue for Illinois.

It also heard Monday night from stakeholders in the horse racing industry, gambling foes and representatives of the two Joliet riverboat casinos, who spoke out against a casino in the Southland.

The site for a Southland casino has not been chosen. Paul Braun of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association said his group has come up with a revenue-sharing agreement that could spread the benefits across the region.

This is the fourth time in as many years that the General Assembly has tried to expand gambling. Quinn vetoed bills in 2011 and 2012 based on ethical and regulatory concerns. Last year, the legislation only passed the Senate.



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