By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
State Rep. Keith Farnham urged the Elgin City Council to work with him to convince Gov. Pat Quinn either to veto or to amend a bill that would allow four or five new casinos in Illinois and add slot machines at six racetracks and Chicago’s two airports.
“I voted against it, I voted emphatically against it,” Farnham told the council during the public comment portion of its regular meeting. “I believe it is the wrong thing to do, I believe that it will hurt our community severely.
“To me, the whole idea of putting a casino in Rockford, putting slots in the racetracks – I just think it is the wrong direction to go in,” Farnham said.
The expansion passed the House on May 30 and the Senate on May 31, according to Reuters.com, and is awaiting Quinn’s signature. Proponents say it will generate as much as $1 billion in gambling revenues for the state, which is $8 billion behind in paying its bills this fiscal year.
Quinn has said he is open to a casino in Chicago but has criticized the gambling expansion bill as excessive. He has not said, however, whether he will veto the measure.
“I think that we need to work on the existing casinos and give them whatever they need to try to help to make them, bring them back,” Farnham told the council. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to go subsidizing the racetracks and other areas at the expense of our own communities.”
Locally, the Chicago Tribune reported last week that Elgin could see it revenues from the Grand Victoria Casino plummet yet again.
When the casino first opened in 1994, it was pouring $2 million a month into Elgin's coffers. City leaders used the money to replace aging infrastructure, build a new police headquarters and an indoor family recreation center and develop Festival Park on the downtown riverfront, among other improvements.
But gambling became yet more business to fall victim to the nation’s economic woes in 2008. Even before then, casino revenues dropped – which the gambling industry blamed on the state’s decision to ban indoor smoking.
But job cuts during the Great Recession pushed up unemployment, and economists say those who still had jobs were more cautious about how they spent their disposable income. So, gambling revenues began to spiral.
Colleen Lavery, Elgin’s chief financial officer, said the city’s share of casino revenues is averaging about $1.1 million a month now. Last week's Chicago Tribune report indicated that number would drop to $650,000 a month with the gambling expansion, although the newspaper did not divulge where it got that information.
That had city officials puzzled earlier this week. Lavery and Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said on Monday the casino typically does not discuss those numbers publicly.
“I would urge the governor either to veto the bill or drastically change the bill,” Farnham told the council Wednesday, alluding to the governor’s amendatory veto powers, which would require legislative approval.
“I would like to ask that my office and the city work together to put together a letter … in some form that we could send to the governor, urging him to either change the bill or veto the bill,” Farnham told council.
Critics of the expansion say it changes the nature of the intent of Illinois’ gambling laws, which when passed in the early 1990s was intended to assist struggling river towns like Elgin that were being economically devastated by the flight of industry and business during the 1970s and 1980s.