Chicago Mega Casino Delayed As Illinois Fails To Vote On Tax Fix

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot required the Illinois legislature to cut the 72 percent effective tax rate on the planned Chicago mega-casino, which was part of the comprehensive gambling reform bill approved by state legislators over the spring, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed in June.

But on Thursday, when a full house of lawmakers failed to pass an amendment aimed at lowering that tax rate to something more appealing to potential casino operators, Lightfoot’s hopes were again dashed.

The outcome of the failure of the Illinois bill, introduced by State Rep. Bob Rita, is likely to be an even longer wait than what Lightfoot and like-minded Chicagoans had previously expected. A recent study showed that because of the enormous overall tax burden, no future location for a Chicago casino–though Lightfoot suggested five this year–would be a profitable business.

This is a halt to any progress towards a Chicago casino in 2019, even as other casino projects are moving forward in Illinois. The path to the next year’s Chicago casino project is still long and bumpy.

Some expected that a compromise could be reached during the shortened veto session of the government, but it does not appear that there has been any real movement to work out the problems that are likely to prevent the Chicago casino from launching soon.

The additional concern of Lightfoot about the gaming bill also includes the costly upfront costs of operators who may want to bid on the project. Such additional financial burdens include an application fee of $250,000, a settlement fee of $15 million after obtaining a gambling licence from the state and up to $120 million in gambling role fees.

Instead of seeing any of those words discussed on Thursday before the window closed for future changes to be made, however, lawmakers rather focused on providing stricter background checks for those seeking casino and sports wagering licences.

Considering the disappointment, when legislators return to full session in January, Lightfoot remains confident things may change. The 101st General Assembly of Illinois will last until May, so Lightfoot should have plenty of time to make her case.

Armed with her own strong views on the current Illinois gaming law, as well as a commissioned Union Gaming Analytics study that said the bill in its current form had an “onerous tax and fee structure” that severely hinders profitability, Lightfoot is unlikely to change her mind anytime soon.

So if Chicago’s planned casino project is to move forward, it will be up to her to find compromises with lawmakers next year.

“While we are disappointed that a much-needed fix to the gaming bill won’t be made during this compressed veto session, the Chicago casino is still very much in the sightline thanks to the progress we’ve made with our state partners,” Lightfoot said in a statement, according to Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW. “I look forward to continuing our conversations about advancing the casino starting in January. With so much potential on the line, our city and state deserve to get this done and get this done right.”