STATE CAPITOL BUREAU
SPRINGFIELD -- Gamblers would still be allowed to smoke in Illinois' casinos, including the Par-A-Dice in East Peoria, under an amendment that passed a Senate committee Tuesday.
Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, introduced the amendment to Senate Bill 890 to exempt the casinos from the statewide smoking ban that, if signed by the governor, would take effect Jan. 1. The exemption would last for five years.
He previously introduced at least three similar amendments exempting only casinos on the Illinois border.
"There's some concern about treating some boats differently than others," Clayborne said in the committee hearing, citing a tax that was declared unconstitutional because it didn't apply to all riverboat casinos equally.
Clayborne said the exemption is necessary to protect distressed areas such as East St. Louis from losing tax dollars to competing Missouri casinos. He estimated East St. Louis could lose 20 percent of its general revenue if the statewide smoking ban goes into effect. Clayborne also said it was necessary to protect school funding, which benefits from gaming taxes.
"In times in which we're trying to add more money (to school funding), we shouldn't be taking money away from the common school fund," Clayborne said.
"The governor hasn't even had a chance to sign (the Smoke Free Illinois Act)," commented Kathy Drea, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association. "There are 8,819 employees at the nine casinos in Illinois. Their health is just as important as all the other workers in Illinois."
Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, a chief co-sponsor on the Smoke Free Illinois Act, called the exemptions unwarranted.
"We have a bill that's clean. It's an indoor ban for public places," Cullerton said. "You work in the public or go into the public, you're free of smoke. ...There's no excuse to have an exemption for riverboats."
Laura Camper can be reached at 217-782-6882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.