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Chicago Video Poker: City's Video Gambling Ban Could Cost Illinois $178 Million

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Funding for a major piece of Illinois legislation is starting to look like a gamble.

Last year, in one of his signature pieces of legislation, Governor Pat Quinn signed a $31 billion construction spending bill, designed to create jobs and update the state's infrastructure.

The bill was funded by selling bonds, raising licensing fees and -- most controversially -- by legalizing video gambling statewide.

In order to appease critics of the measure, Governor Quinn allowed for a provision whereby local governments that had already banned video gaming could keep those bans on the books if they so choose. But one local government whose support he'd counted on was Chicago.

That support may not materialize. The city has long banned video gambling, and Mayor Daley said recently that there has been "no discussion" of repealing the ban.

Meanwhile, new figures from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability predict that without Chicago's participation, video gaming could come up $178 million a year short. Over the ten-year period expected to fund the construction bill, that's nearly $2 billion in missing revenues.

"This puts a monkey wrench in a couple billion dollars worth of projects we can't move forward on and do jobs," State Rep. Raymond Poe told the Sun-Times.

The Commission estimates that video poker in Chicago would generate roughly $475 million per year. 35% of those revenues would go to the state.

But Chicago itself would only receive 5% of the money, or roughly $24 million per year. And as far as Mayor Daley is concerned, this doesn't seem to be enough of an incentive, especially in an election year. Video poker is very unpopular in many circles, especially among the powerful downtown clergy.

With Illinois's budget crisis mounting, though, the money is increasingly important to financing Quinn's bill, so Mayor Daley is likely to face continued pressure from Springfield to allow the machines in the city.