© AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhChicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a news conference in front of Wrigley Field in Chicago, Thursday, April 16, 2020. The Chicago Cubs are coordinating with Lakeview Pantry to utilize the field's concourse as a satellite food packing and distribution center to support COVID-19 relief efforts. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The Illinois House on Saturday passed legislation changing the tax structure for a Chicago casino that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been pushing for the past year.
The legislation also would extend from two to six years the amount of time casino's owners would have to make a reconciliation payment, another change Lightfoot has pushed.
That legislation now heads to the Senate, where its future is uncertain, as lawmakers work into the holiday weekend to attempt to pass a state budget during a special pandemic-driven session.
There was some bipartisan support in the House for the casino bill Saturday, when the measure cleared with a 77-32 vote. It's the furthest Lightfoot's proposed Chicago casino changes have gotten in the General Assembly to date.
"The idea is to make this work for Chicago so we can fund the vertical capital, put people to work, not only for Chicago but for everywhere in the state of Illinois," said sponsoring Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat. "This is good for everyone for jobs and development - having a Chicago casino be real."
The legislation also delays by a year, until July 1, 2021, the time by which gaming applicants must pay license fees.
The coronavirus pandemic is driving that change, which is intended to help existing casinos in the state that have been closed and "would be very helpful for them in terms of how they're going to reopen," Rita said.
"We still don't know what that looks like, when they'll be able to reopen and how they will be able to reopen - whether it be able to fill a blackjack table with six players or three or with social distancing. So they're going to have some changes in how they operate."
After lawmakers last year approved a massive gambling expansion that authorized six new casinos across the state and legalized sports wagering, a study found that the tax structure for the Chicago casino, which is higher than for the other casinos in the state, could make it difficult to attract investors.
Springfield Republican Rep. Tim Butler called the Chicago casino "tremendously important" for the whole state because of its role in funding part of a massive statewide construction plan lawmakers approved last year.
The changes for the city casino would send an estimated $500 million in annual revenue to the state for the statewide infrastructure program, Rita said.
How much revenue from the casino would be allocated to building projects under Gov. J.B. Pritzker's $45 billion "Rebuild Illinois" infrastructure plan was one of the sticking points for lawmakers last fall. Along with concerns the legislation amounted to a "special deal" for Chicago, the revenue issue kept the legislation Lightfoot wanted from passing.
On Friday, Lightfoot was upbeat about the chances for the latest legislation going through.
"This is something that I think obviously provides potential benefits to Chicago but really benefits across the state," Lightfoot said Friday. "Let's not forget that 40% of the vertical capital plan that was passed last year is dependent upon revenue from a Chicago casino.
"The downturn in the market has dramatically impacted their portfolio, and without some substantive relief and new revenues, it's going to be very, very difficult for them to be able to survive," the mayor said Friday.
The legislation the House approved Saturday also includes technical changes for the casino in Danville in relation to gambling on the state fairgrounds in both Springfield and Du Quoin.
Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt contributed.
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