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Debate arises about the expansion of gambling in Illinois

In the United States, legislators in the state of Illinois called a special hearing on Wednesday to hear objections regarding proposed legislation that could see the Midwestern state add five casinos and open the door for other forms of gambling.

According to a report from the Associated Press news service, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton invited representatives of the Illinois Gaming Board and the Chicago Crime Commission to appear before his Senate Executive Committee after members of both expressed concerns about measures contained in Senate Bill 1739, which is often referred to as the Riverboat Gambling Act.

Proponents of the legislation assert that it could generate up to one billion dollars in additional revenues for the cash-strapped state although critics including some members of the Illinois Gaming Board and the Chicago Crime Commission feel that it could additionally open the door to political corruption and organised crime.

Rikeesha Phelon, spokesperson for Cullerton, told the Associated Press that the Chicago Democrat wants to try to find out what concerns are held by opponents and discuss ways to address the issue. However, she stated that Cullerton has his doubts about whether the concerns are legitimate or ‘hyperbole’ intended to derail the measure.

“If there's something that's real there, let's unearth it and fix it and figure out how to move on,” said Phelon.

If passed in its current form and subsequently signed into law by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Senate Bill 1739 would permit the building of land-based casinos in Chicago and its south suburbs along with sites in Rockford, Danville and Lake County. It would also allow current and future casino licensees to apply for an Internet gambling license while authorising up to 1,100 slot machines to be placed around the state.

Any revenues earned by the state from online gambling would go to pay down the state's estimated nine billion dollar deficit along with funding treatment programmes for gambling addictions. The bulk of funds taxed from bricks-and-mortar venues would be earmarked for education with Democrat Quinn earlier suggesting that he may have to cut $400 million from his schools budget this year due to problems with the state's pension programmes.

In the end, the Executive Vice-President for the Chicago Crime Commission, Arthur Bilek, did not attend the hearing but sent a letter outlining his concerns.

“Without the necessary regulations being in place there is every likelihood that organised crime and corruption will enter the gaming system and Illinois will suffer another blow to its national reputation,” read the letter.

For their part, officials from the Illinois Gaming Board criticised the 500-page proposed legislation as not giving the body enough regulatory authority over Chicago casinos. Regulators also declared that they do not currently have enough staff to take on the additional workload with state rules meaning that additional hirings could take many months.

“It's a Christmas tree bill,” said Aaron Jaffe, Chairman for the Illinois Gaming Board.

“It's something for everyone. It's like we have to pad it and pad it and pad it.”

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