Gov. Quinn says he’ll back scaled-down gambling expansion

SHARE Gov. Quinn says he’ll back scaled-down gambling expansion

Governor Pat Quinn presents his demands for signing the gaming expansion bill, Monday, October 17, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Gov. Pat Quinn threatened Monday to veto a massive gambling-expansion bill and instead proposed a scaled-back alternative that would still allow a casino in Chicago and four other new casinos but not allow slot machines at racetracks, O’Hare and Midway airports and the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Besides Chicago, Quinn’s plan calls for new casinos in Lake County, the south suburbs, Rockford and Danville.

“I’m the final word,” Quinn said. “We’re not going to have a willy-nilly gambling bill in Illinois that is not protecting integrity, that is way too big and excessive and doesn’t provide adequate revenue for education. . . . Casino gambling at 14 different locations in Illinois is way too much. We have no interest in becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest. We need to retain our culture.”

Quinn said he also opposes providing any new subsidies for the racing industry, as legislators proposed. Nor would he allow slot machines to be installed at O’Hare Airport, Midway Airport and the Illinois State Fairgrounds – also approved by the Illinois Legislature.

Quinn also wants to bar gaming licensees and casino operators from making political contributions to state officials.

“Anyone who looks at this issue, as I have for four months, will come to realize you need fundamental principles, honesty and integrity at all times,” Quinn said. “You can’t expand too much. You can’t have oversaturation.”

For months, Quinn has said he wasn’t happy with the “top-heavy” gambling expansion approved by the Legislature without detailing what he disagreed with.

Quinn’s counterproposal Monday came a week before lawmakers return to Springfield for the start of their fall veto session and gives the Democratic-led Legislature a roadmap as they try to rework the original bill, which was passed in May but has been held up by a parliamentary maneuver amid fears that Quinn would veto it.

Neither the House nor Senate passed that bill with enough votes to override a veto.

Quinn’s announcement came as the gambling-expansion package’s legislative backers plan to introduce a bill that incorporates some, though not all, of the governor’s ideas.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a mile apart between us,” state Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, said after Quinn made his comments. “Maybe we’re a half-mile apart but not a mile apart. I think I see the governor has moved a long ways. He thought [the original bill] was ‘top-heavy,’ but now he’s OK with the five casinos. That’s a huge move in the right direction. I think maybe we can come to compromise on things.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also appeared pleased.

“We are encouraged that the governor has come forward with a proposal,” Emanuel said. “We are anxious to work with him and the leadership in the Illinois General Assembly so that we can soon begin creating tens of thousands of jobs for Chicagoans and make the investment in the city’s aging infrastructure that will secure a successful future for Chicago.”

Quinn’s decision to snub the horse-racing industry after intense lobbying for slot machines could cause gambling negotiations to collapse since the votes in the Legislature in May were so close, but the governor defended his move.

“The fact we don’t have casino gambling locations at racetracks doesn’t mean the state isn’t providing adequate support for horse racing and other businesses,” he said. “The very notion we have to have seven more gambling locations in order to ‘save horse racing,’ I don’t think is necessary.”

Link said the retooled legislation that will be introduced within days will grant slot machines to Illinois’ seven racetracks.

“I think you have to do something for the racetrack industry to have a bill pass, especially out of the House,” Link said.

A spokesman for Arlington Park ridiculed the governor’s notion that allowing slot machines at racetracks amounts to a great expansion of gambling.

“We’ve been a gaming destination at Arlington since 1927,” said Thom Serafin, a spokesman for the Arlington Heights racetrack. “It’s a 500,000-square-foot facility. The slots would take up, 25-, 50,000 square feet. That’s not ‘expansion.’ ”

A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who had placed the parliamentary hold on the gambling bill that passed last May, said Quinn’s recommendations would become part of “our ongoing discussion of how we can make the gaming bill better for the state.”

“We will be evaluating the governor’s framework in light of what is passable by both chambers of the General Assembly,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said. “We look forward to developing the appropriate compromise with the governor and members of the House.”

The governor also took specific aim at the regulatory structure set forth in the original bill for a Chicago casino. The measure that passed in May would have created a five-member Chicago Casino Development Authority, to be appointed by Emanuel.

Under Quinn’s counterproposal, oversight of the city casino would be shifted to the Illinois Gaming Board, which oversees all of the other Illinois casinos, and less-stringent contracting standards for a Chicago casino on information technology and professional services contracts would be scrapped.

“The regulator should not be the operator,” Quinn said. “That leads to a conflict of interest. I think it’s good to have an independent, well-experienced . . . regulator, and that’s the Illinois Gaming Board.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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