Gov. Quinn is demanding big changes in legislation to expand gambling in Illinois.
An already interesting legislative session scheduled to begin next week in Springfield got a lot more interesting Monday when Gov. Pat Quinn announced his opposition to a massive gambling expansion bill passed earlier this year by state legislators.
"I will not sign SB 744 as it is currently proposed," said Quinn. "... I can only support a smaller, more moderate expansion that prevents corruption and provides adequate revenue for education."
Quinn's "smaller, more moderate" version of the legislation, however, represents a dramatic rewrite of the legislation that could threaten the grand bargain hashed out by legislators. In other words, Quinn's proposed changes could bring the whole thing tumbling down.
The legislation authorizing the gambling expansion in Illinois is a big deal to the legislators and gambling advocates who pushed it through the General Assembly. Indeed, the kid-glove treatment the bill has received is reflected by the refusal of Senate President John Cullerton to send the bill to Quinn for action while he talked with the governor's office.
He decided instead to hold the bill, preventing Quinn from either signing or vetoing it. Cullerton and other legislators now will have to see if they can find common ground with the governor.
But it won't be easy because Quinn is opposed to allowing slot machines at race tracks, a component of the legislation that won key support from backers of the horse race industry. If they don't get what they want from the legislation, why should they or race-friendly legislators accept any changes?
Quinn also is turning the enforcement component on its head, insisting that the Illinois Gaming Board "must have ultimate oversight authority over all casinos, including Chicago." Legislators' decision to exclude the gaming commission from its traditional duties was one of the more curious decisions they made. It almost invites corruption in an industry frequently targeted by organized crime, particularly in the Chicago area.
The proposed Danville casino did pass muster with Quinn. It's one of five new casinos he said he can support. The others are in Rockford, Chicago, southern Cook County and Lake County. But it's fewer than gambling expansion advocates wanted.
"This reduces new facilities in the six county Chicagoland area from nine to three and outside the Chicagoland area from five to two," according to a statement from Quinn's office.
Quinn also listed formal objections to gambling at O'Hare and Midway airports, casino gambling at the Illinois State fair and automatic issuing of licenses for video gambling.
One of his sharpest attacks on legislators and the gambling industry is his proposal to ban campaign contributions by gaming licensees and casino managers. This will enrage members of the Illinois House and Senate who are used to wallowing in large donations from the gambling industry. It's equally likely to enrage the gambling industry because it would eliminate their most effective means of influencing legislative decisions.
There have been almost annual battles in Springfield to expand gambling in Illinois ever since the original casino legislation was passed in the early 1990s.
Existing casinos, of course, want no expansion that would cut into their business. They routinely battled gambling expansionists to a standstill until this year when casino gambling advocates and the horse race industry put together enough votes to pass the Christmas tree bill that Quinn characterized as too "top heavy" to sign.
Quinn's decision does not come as a huge surprise. He's been hinting for weeks that he wants dramatic changes in the legislation.
Maybe he really wants the changes. Maybe he wants to bring down the whole bill by demanding enough changes to shred the gambling tapestry legislators wove. Either way, plans to expand gambling in Illinois have taken a dramatic turn for the worse with Quinn's announcement.