Gov. Quinn and legislators agree about how much to expand gambling in Illinois. So what's the problem?
Last week, after Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a gambling expansion bill, supporters of the legislation grumbled that the explanation Quinn offered for his decision was insincere.
"He wasn't going to sign the gaming bill in the first place. He's using every excuse and every reason in the world to try to explain why he vetoed it," said state Rep. Louis Lang, a Skokie Democrat and one of the head lackeys for the gambling industry in the state.
Lang's comment could not be more inaccurate. In fact, the record shows that Quinn went a long way to accommodate state legislators, and that they're the ones who pushed Quinn over the edge on the gambling bill.
The gambling industry has been waging a furious battle for years to expand in Illinois. But, prior to this year, their efforts had fallen short over one major issue — gambling outlets at Illinois racetracks.
Indeed, it looked as if the "racinos" — the moniker given to the hybrid of casinos and racetracks — would continue to be the deal-breaker.
Last fall, Quinn issued a lengthy statement explaining his position on expanded gambling in Illinois. Legislators had proposed 14 new casinos in Illinois, including ones in Danville and Chicago, to go with the 10 existing casinos. Quinn said that was too many, that he could accept five new casinos as well as expansions at the existing casinos.
More ominously for expansion backers, Quinn expressed opposition to casino gambling at racetracks.
That posed a serious problem because supporters of "racinos" in the General Assembly aren't going to support an increase in the number of casinos unless their wishes are met, and without them there are not enough votes in the House and Senate to approve the gambling package.
Last week, Quinn officially threw in the towel on his opposition to gambling at racetracks, clearing the way for the much-ballyhooed deal.
Legislators, however, got a little too smart in trying to see how far they could push Quinn.
In an indefensible move that almost certainly would lead to trouble, legislators excluded the Chicago-based casino from regulation by the Illinois Gaming Commission as well as the state's procurement code regarding the awarding of contracts.
If those curious decisions don't represent a flashing red light signaling danger ahead, it's hard to know what would be required to do so. Quinn scorned legislators for their surely intentional oversights regarding the Chicago casino, calling them "loopholes for mobsters."
Quinn also hit legislators where it hurts — their campaign treasuries — for ignoring his request to ban campaign contributions from the gambling industry. He wants gambling money removed from the Illinois political scene, an idea that is an anathema to Democrats and Republicans in Springfield.
Over the past 10 years, according to Common Cause, gambling interests have showered $10 million on Illinois politicians, and that's just from the established entities like casinos, racing parks and horsemen's groups. It's probably a lot more than that if one counts contributions from individuals with gambling interests.
Lang, a single legislator, has collected more than $300,000. House Republican Leader Tom Cross received more than $500,000, but as the leader of the House GOP he helps fund the political races of his GOP colleagues.
Existing casinos give money to legislators to help persuade them to block expansion of gambling. Meanwhile, other casino interests give money to legislators to help persuade them to expand the number of casinos. Race tracks give money because they want in on the casino gambling.
It adds up to a fortune going to our elected officials, much of it to party leaders, and they don't want to give it up.
So while Lang disputes Quinn's sincerity over expanded gambling, it's just as easy to question whether legislators like Lang want the contributions more than they want the expansion of gambling.
Legislators could quickly make a deal if this was just about expanding gambling in Illinois. But the coming battle to override Quinn's veto is just as much about smoothing the way for more monkey business for Chicago pols and more gambling money for legislative leaders as it is about expanding gambling in Illinois.