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House Approves Major Gambling Expansion Plan

SPRINGFIELD (CBS) -- The Illinois House has passed proposed legislation that would pave the way for a major expansion of casino gambling throughout the state.

The House voted 65-50 Monday to approve five new casinos for Illinois: a city-owned casino in Chicago and casinos in Lake County, the southern suburbs, Rockford and Danville.

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The legislation also would allow for slot machines at the state's horse racing tracks, slot machines at Chicago's two airports, more gaming positions at existing casinos, and slot machines and year-round racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the legislation would mean $1.5 billion in start-up fees for the new gambling positions. That money could be used to pay down the state's backlog of unpaid bills, he said.

"It'll be dramatic help for the economic engine of Illinois, which is the city of Chicago," said Lang, the bill's chief House sponsor.

After that, he said, the expansion would generate another $500 million in annual gambling revenues, which Lang described as a "conservative" estimate of revenues that could reach as much as $1 billion annually.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has backed a city-owned casino, urged the Senate "to act swiftly to pass this bill."

"A Chicago casino will spur local economic growth and provide jobs to Chicagoans, both needed to get our city moving again," Emanuel said in a written statement.

If the Senate follows suit and approves the gambling expansion, the next big question is what Gov. Pat Quinn will do.

While Quinn favors a city casino, he also has described earlier plans akin to Lang's as "top heavy" and vowed not to allow Illinois to be transformed into the "Las Vegas of the Midwest."

But Lang predicted the governor might not automatically reject the package.

"We pass laws, and he gets to review them. But if a bill was on his desk that paid off $1.5 billion in old bills that he had no other way to pay them off, I'd think he'd want to take a strong look at that bill," Lang said.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press and the Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.)


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