If the General Assembly approves new casino licenses, Joliet could lose anywhere from $1 million to $5 million in tax revenue, Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas said Monday.
When the Rivers Casino opened in Des Plaines in July 2011, the city took a $1 million hit in tax income, and it's likely the same amount would be lost if a casino is built in downtown Chicago or on the city's East Side, near the Indiana border, Thanas told the Joliet City Council.
The impact would be far more devastating if a license were granted to Country Club Hills or Homewood/East Hazel Crest, either of which would siphon off a large number of patrons going to Joliet's two casinos, Harrah's and Hollywood, he said.
If he had to guess, the blow could be as much as $5 million a year -- or about 25 percent of the city's current gaming tax revenue, Thanas said.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved the creation of five new casino licenses, including one for Chicago, and authorizing racetracks to add slot machines to their facilities, transforming them into "racinos." The bill was vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn, citing inadequate protections against potential corruption.
Last week, however, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he and Quinn were close to working out a deal addressing the governor's concerns. That could open the door for the issue to be revisited in the General Assembly's current veto session, where a modified bill could be passed or the governor's veto overridden.
The matter could also be postponed until the January "lame duck" session, during which unpopular or potentially controversial issues are tackled because outgoing legislators are inclined to vote as they like without worrying about re-election.
The gaming revenue topic was broached Monday by 1st District Councilman Larry Hug, who questioned whether the city was doing enough to "ween" city-subsidized organizations, such as the Joliet Area Historical Museum or Rialto Square Theatre, off money that may not be available in the future.
Thanas said that all groups receiving city subsidies have had their allocations reduced, and they are aware that the situation could grow more dire if more casino licenses are issued.
That said, "that won't happen overnight," Thanas said.
Given that it will take as long as 18 months or more for a license to be approved and additional months will be required for construction, the city will have sufficient time to start incrementally reducing subsidies in anticipation of the revenue loss, he said.
At-large Councilman Mike Turk suggested Mayor Tom Giarrante call Quinn to reinforce the city's opposition to any expansion of gambling in Illinois. Giarrante agreed that he would do so.