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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs bill intended to boost prospect of long-discussed Chicago casino

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 5 days ago By Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune
a man wearing a suit and tie: Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot appear together at a news conference at the Thompson Center on May 31, 2020. © Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot appear together at a news conference at the Thompson Center on May 31, 2020.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed a bill that supporters hope will make a long-debated Chicago casino more attractive to potential developers.

The bill, approved during the General Assembly’s pandemic-driven special legislative session in May, marked a major win for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is counting on revenue from a casino to help infuse cash into the underfunded pension plans for Chicago police officers and firefighters.

The state’s take from the casino is earmarked for building projects that are part of Pritzker’s $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” infrastructure plan.

“Working with the General Assembly and Mayor Lightfoot, we accomplished what eluded so many others, and now this momentous legislation tackles key priorities for the state of Illinois — helping to ensure that Chicago can pay for first responders’ pensions and alleviate the burden on property taxpayers, along with investing in universities and hospitals throughout the state,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Pritzker signed a measure into law last year that created a license for the casino — something mayors have been pushing for more than two decades — but a consultant’s report required by the law described tax rates in the measure as “very onerous” and said they would likely scare off any investors, who would be left with profit margins in the low single digits.

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The new law does away with a 33.3% city tax on post-payout revenue in favor of a graduated tax structure on slot machines and table games.

The city’s cut from slots, for example, would range from 10.5% on revenue up to $25 million to 34.7% on revenue above $1 billion. Outside the city, local governments only get a 5% cut from their casinos and in some cases have to split that with other nearby localities.

Lightfoot lobbied lawmakers throughout the fall and spring in an effort to win support on both sides of the aisle for the more favorable tax structure.

The new casino will serve “as the impetus for a dynamic new entertainment district in our city,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

But her administration hasn’t indicated a favored location, which figures to be a major sticking point in moving ahead.

The consultant’s report last year cast doubt on five South and West side sites suggested by the city, but pushing for a location closer to downtown could be politically difficult for Lightfoot, who campaigned on bringing more economic development to struggling neighborhoods.

Before a casino can open, a developer must reach an agreement with the city and be approved for an operator’s license by the Illinois Gaming Board.

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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