Former Illinois House member Lou Lang has made the transition from a proponent of gambling expansion to a casino investor.
Proponents of a gambling and entertainment development made a big splash last week when they presented their ambitious proposals to members of the Danville City Council.
But there was something else that was eye-opening about their presentation — one of the advocates and investors in what will be, if it becomes reality, a huge development for the Danville area.
The individual in reference is former longtime state legislator Lou Lang, a Democrat who was a member of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s leadership team. He resigned his position as a member of the Illinois House last year to become — naturally — a lobbyist and — obviously — even more.
While a legislator, Lang was one of the foremost proponents of a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois. He pushed, pulled and prodded, using whatever influence he had to try to persuade the governor and his fellow legislators that Illinois needed to vastly expand the number of gambling venues in the state.
Efforts to expand gambling in Illinois came up short for years, mostly because those in the business fought viciously against would-be competitors. Both sides spent a fortune on campaign contributions to get their way.
Although Lang was no longer a House member, he achieved his dream earlier this year when the legislature approved a massive expansion of gambling on all fronts in Illinois.
The legislature approved more casinos, more video gambling, allowed the state’s three race tracks to adopt casino-style operations and approved sports betting.
The plan was sold as a tax-revenue generator for the state of Illinois.
It’s highly questionable that it will generate as much new revenue as promised, but that’s another story.
What the expansion is really about is opening more profit opportunities for those who are in the gambling business.
That group now includes Lang, who put expanded gambling and marijuana legalization at the top of his priority list during his tenure in Springfield.
There’s nothing illegal — and nothing surprising — about Lang evolving from proponent of gambling expansion to casino investor. There’s hardly a law — at least an effective one — in Illinois that prevents public officials from feathering their own financial nests.
But what’s legal isn’t necessarily what’s proper. Lang’s transition raises questions about whose interests he was really promoting when he was advocating gambling expansion.
That, of course, is not new in Illinois. Indeed, it’s pretty routine stuff, as citizens can tell from the recent rash of news stories about multiple ongoing corruption investigations.
The FBI is, of course, investigating illegal activities while Lang’s new role is legally above-board.
But that difference brings to mind the old saying about legislators pursuing “honest graft” in places like Washington, D.C. — it’s scandalous when public officials break the law, but what’s really scandalous is what the law allows public officials — and former ones — to do.