|The Illinois attorney general’s office is examining the casino industry’s opposition to gaming tax increases for possible antitrust violations, in the wake of a recent meeting between casino bosses.|
The state issued subpoenas to Illinois casinos demanding documents from April 1 onwards that could possibly show activities having “a direct impact on the economy in Illinois”, as described by Lori Bolas, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office.
Although Bolas would not discuss specifics, she said that antitrust lawyers became interested after hearing of a meeting on June 11 between casino executives to discuss the state’s new casino tax rates. There is to be a new 50% tax rate on casino revenues above $200 million in Illinois.
Reaction to the tax rise has been, predictably, downbeat, with Argosy CEO James Perry saying that jobs could be lost as a result – Argosy announced on the same day as the meeting that its plan for a 75,000-square-foot barge at the Empress casino in Joliet could be downsized or cancelled because of the new taxes.
Harrah’s Entertainment Inc, which owns casinos in Joliet and Metropolis, claimed that the subpoenas are politically motivated. Illinois Attorney General James Ryan is the Republican candidate for governor. 'It's a grandstand play by a guy who's running for governor,' said Gary Thompson, spokesman for Las Vegas-based Harrah's. 'Apparently, he (Ryan) doesn't understand that the First Amendment allows people to assemble and petition the government with grievances.'
Thompson denies that the meeting violated antitrust laws: 'We're not talking about fixing prices,' he said. 'I don't see how it can possibly be any antitrust violation.'