A reasonable position on gambling expansion

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and backers of a gambling-expansion bill that includes a casino in Danville should bridge their differences through negotiations.

The next move in the high-stakes contest between Gov. Pat Quinn and the backers of expanded gambling in Illinois is up to Quinn, and he's holding the better hand.

A defiant Legislature passed a gambling-expansion bill in May and sent it to Quinn knowing he had strong reservations about a lack of ethics safeguards and other provisions of the bill. His concern over ethics is reasonable given Illinois' track record. Proponents figured they could muscle it through over the governor's objections, but while the measure passed the House with close to a veto-proof majority, it fell far short of that in the Senate.

Quinn has until the end of August to act or the bill becomes law. If he vetoes it, the outcome of an override vote is far from certain, raising the possibility that proponents would have to start anew in the next session, with no guarantee they'd be able to line up the support they had this year.

That's why supporters of the gambling expansion would be wise to start working with Quinn to make the bill more to his liking, a prospect raised by former state Rep. Bill Black of Danville, who heads the Illinois Revenue and Jobs Alliance, an organization backing the expansion, and who has a good relationship with the governor.

Black said he wants to work with Quinn to improve the bill, but that he wants to do it with a "trailer bill," not start again with a new piece of legislation, a tactic Quinn has so far opposed.

"I don't think there's anything the governor would want that we couldn't put together," Black said recently.

The bill on Quinn's desk calls for opening five new casinos in the state — at Danville, Chicago, Rockford and Park City and in the south Chicago suburbs — plus allowing slot machines at Illinois' six racetracks and expanded seats at existing casinos.

Quinn opposes the gambling bill on several counts. Most importantly, he wants a provision to ban campaign contributions from gambling interests. He also wants to give state regulators more time to properly vet new licenses and provide stronger oversight of a Chicago casino, which would operate independently. In the past he objected to allowing slots at racetracks, which legislative sponsors say are needed to attract enough support.

This is the second go-round for the gambling-expansion plan. The Legislature passed a similar bill in 2011 but never sent it to the governor after he vowed to veto it. This spring, the sponsors made a few changes such as removing slots from Chicago's two airports and the Illinois State Fairgrounds, but did not address Quinn's other concerns despite his consistent message.

That he has not vetoed the bill yet despite voicing his continued objections at least gives hope that some agreement can be reached. While Quinn hasn't said he'll veto the proposal outright, it's unlikely he will sign the bill as is. He's also said he wouldn't sign the bill on the promise by legislative sponsors of a trailer bill to address his concerns in the fall, an understandable position. But he may be leaving the door open to negotiations to address his objections, and if proponents are smart, they'll take advantage of the opportunity.

Expanded gambling is no panacea for the state's dire economic problems, though it will be the source of some revenue. It was sold to revenue-hungry legislators as one answer to Illinois' serious financial problems. Backers have suggested it could produce as much as $1 billion in revenue. But proponents of expanded gambling in Illinois have repeatedly overestimated its value, and it would be unwise to rely too heavily on their promises.

Still, The News-Gazette has been supportive of the effort by Danville officials to secure a casino as one solution to the city's economic woes. A casino is seen as an important development tool for in Danville, providing jobs and revenue, and officials project it would generate about 1,200 jobs and $5 million to $8 million a year in tax revenue.

If supporters of expanded gambling are serious, they'll reach out to Quinn to negotiate a trailer bill that would be fashioned to meet the requirements of all involved. Otherwise, they may see opportunity slip away.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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