Watchdog group concerned that new Illinois casinos could cost taxpayers billions of dollars

A watchdog group worries that the state's big bet on more than a dozen new casinos could go bust.

Consultants have warned a Chicago casino could lose money. But the Civic Federation says other proposed gambling palaces could, too, and taxpayers could end up on the hook for billions of dollars.

Illinois taxpayers have already seen this horror show.

“We waited. We went into a dark room. We basically were told, ‘it's this or nothing!’ And that's what’s thrown on the taxpayers,” said president of the Civic Federation of Chicago Laurence Msall.

Msall – a taxpayer watchdog – warns that a proposed Chicago casino is not the only project whose financial future is in doubt. A new state law authorized more than a dozen additional gambling venues across Illinois. But it's now clear lawmakers have more work to do, if all of them are going to be built.

“We’ll be working together to make sure that gets done. The sponsors of the bill that passed will work with my administration, with the gaming board,” said Governor JB Pritzker.

Lawmakers created the Illinois Lottery in the 1980s with misleading promises about school funding. In 2009, they legalized video gambling machines, with false claims that they would pay for new construction projects. The Civic Federation says taxpayers have so far spent $1.7 billion bailing out those projects.

A spokeswoman for the governor said this time revenue estimates are very conservative. Others worry.

“It’s a scary time for governments. It's a scary time for people who would like to see our governments stabilize. We'd like to see more transparency,” Msall said.

The governor acknowledged the growing number of questions about the state's big bet on gambling. But he said, even if it takes some extra time to get up and running, he's determined that the state will do this right.