Quinn has gambling expansion bill
SPRINGFIELD — A gambling expansion bill that passed the Legislature more than 18 months ago is finally on Gov. Pat Quinn's desk, but a primary supporter say it's not likely to win his OK.
Danville, where city officials have long hoped for gambling to bring jobs and tax revenue, probably will continue to have to wait for its own casino.
A motion to reconsider the vote by which the gambling expansion bill passed the Legislature on May 31, 2011, was withdrawn this week by Senate President John Cullerton. The parliamentary move means the bill will go to Quinn's desk. Once there, he has 60 days to sign it or veto it.
But Quinn long ago expressed dissatisfaction with the legislation and more recently said he wants to consider reforming the state's underfunded pension systems before addressing gambling expansion.
On Wednesday, he signaled that he hasn't changed his mind.
"I've already indicated my thoughts about it in the past, so we'll wait until it arrives and speak about it then," he told reporters.
State Rep. Chad Hays, whose district includes Danville, said he isn't optimistic.
"It's possible that the governor could sign this, but I'm very doubtful," said Hays, a Catlin Republican. "I think there are two scenarios, with the first one being much, much more likely. That is that the Senate president releases the bill and now can go back to the mayor of Chicago and say, 'Not once but twice the governor vetoed a bill with a Chicago casino in it.' It shifts the blame onto the governor.
"The other scenario would be that the governor tells the Senate president that 'I will entertain gaming in exchange for a vote on a pension bill.'"
Hays and Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said the Legislature could negotiate a "trailer bill" in which Quinn's concerns would be addressed in another piece of legislation within the next 60 days.
"Most likely," said Hays, "we'll just start all over. I think that's most likely. I know that Senator Link (Terry Link, the chief gaming bill sponsor in the Senate) is already talking about a new bill."
Said Frerichs, "I think there are too many people who have worked too hard on this for too long to just give up. I think releasing that bill (by Cullerton) leaves one option, but I think other options are being pursued."
The good news, Hays said, is that Danville is included in every version of a gambling expansion bill.
"I guess the thing that is positive and still gives me hope that we can get this done is that in every rendition of this discussion, in every rebirth of a new bill, Danville has been very much a part of the discussion. I don't think there's any doubt that Danville is very much in the bill for reasons we have articulated in the past. Geographically we don't cannibalize any other casino. We're talking about several hundred million dollars in upfront investment, several hundred jobs. We have reports that indicate that up to 65 percent of the revenue would come from across the border in Indiana."
It's unclear what effect the new makeup of the Legislature would have on a gambling expansion bill, the legislators said. Democrats have increased their majorities in both chambers with a 40-19 advantage in the Senate and a 71-47 margin in the House.
"I don't think this is a Democrat or Republican issue," Frerichs said. "I think we'll ... see strong bipartisan support in our area."
The only East Central Illinois lawmakers on the record as being opposed to gambling expansion is veteran Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.
Hays said the support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is critically important.
"There's certainly very real interest in this by the mayor of Chicago. And I think that as long as that continues to be the case, this discussion will be very much alive. I've thought from the beginning that this is not a matter of if but when," Hays said. "If there's a license for Chicago in it and the mayor of Chicago is actively engaged in lobbying for it, I don't know that that hurts the chances of its passage."