Gov. says doubling casino sizes would create 300M Dollars for schools - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday said he would block the creation of more casinos for Illinois but that existing casinos should double in size to generate $300 million for schools.


It was the latest round of posturing over gambling expansion at the Capitol, where the governor and fellow Chicago Democrats leading the Legislature have competing positions.


Next week, the House is expected to vote on a measure to abolish casino gambling. House Speaker Michael Madigan has not endorsed the measure but says the governor should be the one taking the lead on gambling expansion.


Across the Capitol rotunda, Senate President Emil Jones Jr. has spearheaded a measure to establish casinos in Chicago and two other cities. Rockford is not one of them despite the efforts of Mayor Doug Scott, another Democrat.


Scott has teamed with Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, in lobbying lawmakers for a Rockford casino license.


Scott's opponents in the mayoral race, independent Larry Morrissey and Republican Gloria Cardenas-Cudia, oppose that push.

What's expansion?

Blagojevich campaigned against the expansion of gambling in 2002 but has been vague about how much expansion he would support since taking office in January 2003.


He has said, for instance, that he could support creation of a Rockford casino license.


His plan outlined Thursday calls for raising the total number of gambling positions to 23,000 or 24,000, up from 12,000.


That would let each casino have a maximum of about 2,400 positions, up from 1,200, assuming all 10 casinos are operating.


A gaming position loosely corresponds with one person gambling.


Each slot machine is nine-tenths of a position, while most gaming tables count as five positions each.


A craps table counts as 10 positions.


Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor does not view his plan as "expansion."


The governor's plan would raise the $300 million by "selling" the additional gaming positions to casinos.


She noted that the governor said he would veto any other gambling "expansion" proposals this spring, including those calling for more casinos.


"This is how the governor views this: More where it already exists and not introducing any new gaming where it doesn't exist," she said.


Tom Grey, a Rockford-based antigambling activist, said the governor was on the verge of breaking a campaign pledge. He predicted that Blagojevich's proposal would meet heavy opposition, from people opposed to gambling and from such advocates as Jones.


"He said he didn't want to become addicted to gambling," Grey said. "He just stuck the needle in his arm. I do not respect a governor who breaks a pledge and then tries to weasel out of it by saying it's not an expansion."


Syverson argued the Legislature would be unlikely to support a gambling plan that didn't include a new casino for Chicago.


"It will make these existing communities with facilities very wealthy and obviously other communities will be left out," he said.

Money for schools

The governor's comments on Thursday, made during an appearance at Oak Park and River Forest High School, follow criticism of his proposal to increase state spending on schools by $140 million.


Public school officials said $140 million would do little to reconcile widespread school funding shortages and disparities.


Jones called the figure, announced during the governor's February budget address, "a paltry sum."


Moreover, Blagojevich said 100 percent of that money should come from reserves set aside for veterans' affairs and other special purposes.


Such a sweep is sure to ignite political battles with dozens of special-interest groups.


The $300 million in spending proposed on Thursday would be on top of the $140 million.


Belvidere schools chief Don Schlomann said he feared gambling revenue earmarked for schools under the governor's plan would get diverted to other areas of state spending. Still, he applauded the call for more spending.


"Three hundred million more is certainly favorable," Schlomann said. "I suspect that all administrators and all teachers and all school officials would say so."

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