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Gambling expansion

A man plays a video slot machine in a lounge at Huck’s, a truck stop in Mount Vernon. 

Two weeks after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law authorizing a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois, the state has taken the first small step toward creating a Chicago casino.

The Illinois Gaming Board on Friday announced the selection of Las Vegas-based Union Gaming Analytics to study the feasibility of a city casino. The selection came four days after the law’s deadline for choosing a consultant, perhaps an early sign that it could be a while before the myriad gambling options offered in the new law will be available.

The five-member Gaming Board — currently with two open seats that await appointments by Pritzker — has to evaluate applications, conduct background checks and approve licenses for all the new betting options. In addition to the Chicago casino and legalized sports betting, the law authorizes new casinos in Waukegan, the south suburbs and three other locations, and the addition of slot machines and table games at horse tracks.

Immigration Detention Illinois

In this June 25 file photo, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signs a bill in Chicago. 

Revenue from expanded gambling will help pay for construction projects at public schools, state universities and community colleges, and other facilities under Pritzker’s $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” capital plan.

Here’s a look at where things stand and what’s to come.

Chicago casino

A city casino is authorized to have up to 4,000 “gaming positions” — like slot machines and seats at blackjack tables — which is double what most other casinos will be allowed under the new law. Some of those positions can be used to place slot machines at O’Hare International and Midway airports.

First step: The state gaming agency selected Union Gaming Analytics to study whether the setup proposed in the new law — under which the city would get a one-third cut of the post-payout revenue to help pay down its pension debt — will be attractive to investors. The report also will examine the ability to finance a city casino and will look at how different locations could affect the casino’s fortunes.

The deadline for choosing a consultant was July 8, but the board accepted bids through July 9 and then awarded a $90,000 contract Friday to Union, the only firm to respond by the deadline. The contract did not require Gaming Board approval.

Up next: Union has until Aug. 12 to prepare its report. Once the report is received, the board has 90 days to recommend any changes to the terms of the license. After that, it can begin accepting applications for the owner’s license.

Once applications are filed, the board has a year to award a license to a casino owner. The owner also will need to get all the appropriate approvals from the city for the casino’s location. After the license is awarded, the owner will be able to operate from a temporary location for two years while a permanent facility is being built.

Other casinos

In addition to Chicago, Waukegan, the south suburbs, Rockford, Danville and Williamson County in southern Illinois are in line for new casino licenses. That’s in addition to the state’s 10 existing casinos.

Each of the new and existing casinos will be allowed up to 2,000 gaming positions, with the exception of the Williamson County location, which is allowed 1,200. That was the previous cap for all casinos.

First step: Bidders for new casinos have until late October to submit an application to the Gaming Board. In Rockford, an impact study has to be conducted before a license can be issued to determine which location would create the most jobs and generate the most tax revenue.

Up next: The board has a year to review applications and conduct background checks on all involved parties before issuing licenses for the new casinos. As in Chicago, potential casino owners will need approval from the local city or county for their chosen locations, and there will have to be a public hearing on each location. Once the licenses are awarded, the new casinos also will be able to operate from temporary locations.

Sports betting

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The new law authorizes the creation of sportsbooks at all of the state’s casinos, horse tracks and sports venues that seat at least 17,000 people. But any location that wants to offer sports betting will have to receive a separate license from the Gaming Board.

License holders also will be able to operate online, but bettors initially will have to come into a bricks-and-mortar facility to register for an account. Three online-only sportsbook licenses will be created 18 months after the first license is issued.

Bettors must be 21 or older, and wagering on college teams from Illinois is prohibited.

First step: The Gaming Board, next scheduled to meet Aug. 1 , must create applications for the various sports wagering licenses and establish rules for the application process. Application forms will be “available soon,” according to the board’s website.

Up next: Unlike for casinos, the law doesn’t set hard deadlines for the board to issue new sports betting licenses. The application deadline for the three online-only sportsbooks will be roughly 18 months after the first license is issued. The online licenses will be awarded through a competitive bidding process.

In addition to the sports wagering overseen by the Gaming Board, the Illinois Lottery will be running a pilot program for sports betting terminals at lottery retailers. Once a company is chosen to run the central system, terminals will be permitted at 2,500 locations in the first year. Another 2,500 will be allowed the following year, and the test will expire Jan. 1, 2024.

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Horse tracks

Racetracks and horse owners in Illinois have long sought the state’s blessing to add slot machines and table games in the hope that expanded betting options will attract bigger crowds and allow tracks to pay bigger purses to winning horses.

The new law gives them that permission, along with the ability to offer sports betting. It also authorizes a new standardbred horse track in south suburban Cook County. There are currently three tracks operating in Illinois: Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Fairmount Park in Collinsville, near St. Louis. Arlington, Hawthorne and the new south suburban track each will be allowed 1,200 gaming positions, and Fairmount will be allowed 900.

First step: Tracks that want to add slots and table games have until late August to submit license applications to the Gaming Board.

Up next: After receiving each application, the board has up to 120 days to decide whether to grant a license. In turn, tracks have up to 18 months after being licensed to get all their gaming positions up and running.

The Illinois Racing Board will review applications for the new south suburban track. The law doesn’t establish a deadline for that process.

Video gambling

Licensed restaurants, bars, veterans and fraternal organizations, and small truck stops are now allowed to have six video gambling terminals each, up from five under the previous law.

The new law also creates a new license category for large truck stops, those within 3 miles of a highway interchange that sell 50,000 gallons of gas per month, among other requirements. Large truck stops will be allowed up to 10 machines each.

Wagers and jackpots also go up under the new law. The maximum bet per hand is now $4, up from $2, and the maximum cash payout is now $1,999, up from $500.

First step: The Gaming Board will review applications from businesses seeking large truck stop licenses. Some towns and counties may have to adjust local laws to allow the increased number of machines at video gambling establishments. Establishments also may have to adjust their agreements with the companies that operate their gambling terminals.

Up next: Once licenses are awarded to large truck stops, they will be able to add up to 10 video gambling terminals.

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