Beloit casino adds urgency to Illinois gambling expansion – Rockford Register Star

By Brenden MooreGateHouse Media Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — It’s a new year and lawmakers are laying odds on whether 2018 will bring long-awaited gambling expansion that could include a Rockford casino.

Expansion is no safe bet in 2018, but some lawmakers say a newfound urgency to compete with surrounding states could be enough to push legislation through.

“There’s enough critical mass and opportunity in the General Assembly to get something done,” said state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside.

The oft-discussed Rockford casino, part of a bill that would create several new casinos and permit slots at racetracks, is one of several gambling measures lawmakers will again tackle in 2018. This year, as Beloit city officials and the Ho-Chunk Nation say they have made promising progress toward building a casino, there is increasing pressure on Illinois to act.

The proposed Beloit casino, just a few feet north of the Wisconsin state line, is a threat to devastate Rockford’s convention and tourism industry, said state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford.

A bill that passed the Illinois Senate last year would allow for new casinos in Chicago, south suburban Cook County, Danville, northern Lake County, Rockford and Williamson County in southern Illinois. It’s currently assigned to the House Rules Committee. The legislation also would permit slots at racetracks to help prop up the state’s struggling horse racing industry.

Though the legislation is similar to the framework of previous gambling-expansion bills that failed — including two vetoes from former Gov. Pat Quinn — it’s time to try again, Syverson said.

“We’re hoping the House would take up the gaming bill and pass it and save northern Illinois from what would be a really big blow,” Syverson said. “Even if they hold it up for another year, we’ll be too late.”

Zalewski, long a proponent of gaming, is sponsoring legislation that would

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