Override of gaming bill veto uncertain

Override of gaming bill veto uncertain

Following Gov. Pat Quinn's Tuesday veto of a major gambling expansion bill that included casinos in Danville and Chicago, supporters were left with two options: try a veto override this fall or start all over with a new piece of legislation.

In his veto message, Quinn trashed the gambling bill, saying "it continues to fall well short of the standards of the people of Illinois."

"The most glaring deficiency of Senate Bill 1849 is the absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight. Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters," the governor continued.

He said he wanted a ban on campaign contributions from gaming licensees and casino managers.

"We must prevent campaign contributions by gaming operators from infecting our political process," said Quinn, who has taken money from gambling interests in past years.

Other states, including Iowa, Indiana, Michigan and Louisiana, have enacted such bans, the governor said.

Quinn also complained that the legislation "does not ensure clear regulatory oversight" over a proposed Chicago casino, would not subject Chicago casino contracts to the state procurement code, nor give the Illinois Gaming Board enough time to make licensing and regulatory decisions.

Finally, he said the legislation would not provide "adequate support for education." Any gambling expansion, Quinn asserted, "must prioritize the needs of our students."

Local lawmakers pledged to attempt a veto override, but Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who wants a casino in Chicago — seemed to signal a different direction.

"I spoke with the governor this morning, and we agreed, it cannot take another 20 years of discussion to draft and pass a bill that will be signed into law," Emanuel said in a statement that included no mention of a veto override attempt. "I will continue to work relentlessly with all parties to pass a bill that will allow a Chicago casino to be built and implemented responsibly."

Emanuel's comments seemed to be in concert with recent remarks by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who predicted there would be no override of a Quinn veto of the gambling bill.

Former state Rep. Bill Black of Danville, the chairman of the pro-gambling Illinois Revenue and Jobs Alliance, said Madigan's comments are significant.

"Michael Madigan doesn't just say things like he doesn't think there are votes. If Madigan doesn't want there to be an override, there isn't going to be an override. It's just that simple," Black said.

Still, supporters of the bill — which called for five new casinos and slot machines at racetracks — said they intended to try a veto override when the Legislature returns to work for six days in November and December.

"I think it's very possible in the House," said Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer. "The concern is obviously in the Senate, where we might need as many as seven more votes to get this done."

The original bill passed on May 31 with just 30 votes, and supporters believe they have lost at least one vote in the Senate since.

Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said that gaining seven votes in the Senate "is going to be difficult, but we're elected to deal with the challenges facing the state, and that's what I intend to be working on the next few months before the veto session."

"I don't think anything is impossible, and there are many people who will be open to changing their minds. It's our job to go out and convince them of the merits of this."

Supporters decried Quinn's decision to turn down potentially billions of dollars in future gambling revenue.

"It's disappointing at a time of tight budgets and a difficult economy that the governor would veto a bill that would bring in more money to pay down our backlog of bills and help communities that could really use the economic boost," Frerichs said. "Our next step should be getting our votes lined up to override his veto during the veto session."

Black added, "You're looking at a billion dollars in licensing fees, and once you get a license, you have to pay cash for each gaming position. You pay that cash, or you don't open. On top of that, you're talking 20,000 permanent jobs and 10,000 to 20,0000 construction jobs. Plus, in Danville, we have pledged to share that revenue with our local school districts."

Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, said gambling advocates would not be dissuaded.

"For people who are enthusiastic about what this means for the Danville area, I would say the ball is back in our court, and a lot of good people are working very hard to make sure we can do this without the blessing of the governor," Hays said.

Eisenhauer said he worried that if the veto could not be overridden this fall, it would be more difficult to pass an all-new bill when another Legislature is sworn in next January.

"You've been asking some people to take a very tough vote for four years," he said. "It will be tougher to get them to continue to do it in the future."