Gambling expansion plan is on hold
Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday threw a monkey wrench into plans by the powerful for more gambling in Illinois
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn set the stage for a titanic battle in the fall veto session by blocking legislation providing for a dramatic expansion of gambling that included new casinos in Danville and Chicago.
In his veto message, Quinn reiterated his concerns about the absence of proper oversight for the proposed Chicago casino, stating that "Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters." Quinn also expressed concern about the Legislature's failure to ban campaign contributions from the powerful gambling industry as well as the bill's failure to set aside a bigger share of expected new revenues for education.
"Anything short of that is unacceptable and would be a disservice to the people of Illinois," Quinn said in his two-page veto message.
Quinn also boldly declared his confidence that his veto will be upheld, saying "I don't have any doubt about it." But he should have doubt, because this issue is about money and power, and those two tonics have a history of changing the votes of self-interested state legislators.
The reaction to Quinn's veto was immediate and strong. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, drooling over expected new revenues he could spend and casino-related jobs he could hand out to loyalists, reiterated his intention to build a gambling casino in the Windy City.
Bill Black, a former Republican state legislator from Danville and current chairman of a pro-gambling lobby group, predicted that "our leaders in Springfield ... will do what is necessary so the state can benefit from sorely needed jobs and revenue." Clearly, Black was referring to legislative leaders and the prospect of an override of Quinn's veto.
The legislation Quinn vetoed was the product of years of legislative wrangling, a grand bargain of sorts that, like most mega-deals cooked up in the General Assembly, took care of everybody.
Under the legislation, the state's 10 existing casinos would be allowed to expand, Chicago was to have its own casino and new casinos would be built in Danville, Park City, Rockford and the Chicago suburbs. In addition to casinos, gambling would be permitted at the state's racetracks, prompting the new monicker "racinos."
Unforgivably and surely no accident were provisions in the legislation that spared the planned casino in Chicago from oversight by the Illinois Gaming Board. The city casino was also spared from having to comply with the state's procurement code in handing out contracts.
In a state as corrupt as Illinois, it's impossible to believe that the absence of proper oversight for the Chicago casino is anything other than a favor to powerful parties, be they political interests, criminal interests or both. There is no legitimate excuse for special treatment for Chicago, and Quinn is absolutely correct to raise questions about it.
It was our hope that Quinn could deal with that tissue and still allow Danville the casino city fathers think will produce jobs and new tax revenue. Danville still may get one.
The House passed the gambling-expansion bill, SB 1849, with 69 votes and needs just 71 to override Quinn's veto. The Senate passed the bill with 30 votes, and supporters need 36 to override Quinn's veto.
These votes are more malleable than some perceive, frequently the product less of political principle than political posturing. In the post-election veto session, newly elected legislators or defeated/retiring members of the House and Senate can expect a variety of generous offers to vote for an override.
The gambling bill need not have contained so many glaring weaknesses. Quinn laid down his markers early in the process, and legislators — hoping he would back down — declined to work out a compromise. Rather than override the Quinn veto and saddle the state with a questionable arrangement that will not be altered, legislators should move quickly to pass a new bill that serves the entire state without special rules for a select few.