NW Side reps dismayed by veto of gambling bill
by JASON PORTERFIELD
Northwest Side lawmakers expressed disappointment after Governor Pat Quinn vetoed legislation that would have allowed casino gambling to expand to Chicago and four other Illinois cities.
The legislation would have allowed existing casinos to increase the number of slot machines and would have allowed slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports, the state’s five horseracing tracks and the state fairgrounds.
The legislation was passed by the Illinois Senate in April of 2011 by a 30-14 margin, with three senators voting “present,” and by the Illinois House in May of 2011 by a vote of 65-50, with two representatives voting “present.” The bill was held up by state Senate president John Cullerton (D-6) until January, when it was finally sent to Quinn.
Quinn also vetoed another gambling expansion last summer, saying that the legislation did not have strong ethical standards or enough oversight. That bill, which was passed by the General Assembly last spring, also would have increased the number of casinos in the state from 10 to 15, including one in Chicago, and would have allowed slot machines at racetracks. The proposals to allow slot machines at airports and the state fairgrounds were left out of that bill.
“This is a bad bill for the people of Illinois,” Quinn said in his veto message. “As I made clear when I vetoed Senate Bill 1849 last summer, I will not approve of any gaming expansion without strong ethical standards, comprehensive oversight and dedicated resources for education.
“Unfortunately, Senate Bill 744 is even more significantly flawed than Senate Bill 1849,” Quinn said. “Senate Bill 744’s most glaring deficiency is the total absence of comprehensive ethical standards and regulatory oversight. This bill also lacks a ban on campaign contributions by gaming licensees and casino managers, which is essential to keeping corruption out of the gaming industry.”
Quinn also criticized the bill for proposing that a casino be built “at the fairgrounds where families bring their children” and said that the state cannot gamble its way out of the $96 billion unfunded pension liability that it faces, but he left the door open to later efforts to expand gambling in the state.
“As I did when I vetoed Senate Bill 1849, I call on the members of the General Assembly to work with me, my staff, the Illinois Gaming Board, the Illinois Racing Board, the City of Chicago and all other interested parties to ensure that the final version of any gaming legislation includes strong ethical standards, clear regulatory oversight and adequate support for our students and teachers,” Quinn said.
State Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-20) voted “present” on the bill, but he said that he had supported the effort last year to pass a gambling expansion bill. McAuliffe said that he thinks the governor has other priorities to address before he looks at any new gambling legislation.
“There are other things he wants right now,” McAuliffe said. “He wants to get pension reform passed, so that’s going to come before he even considers more gambling. I’m sure someone will try to get something passed, but now is just not the right time.”
McAuliffe said that he does not know how the new General Assembly would vote on a gambling bill. “When a bill is introduced, it will have to be tweaked and adjustments will have to be made,” he said. “When you make changes, you risk losing support. You might not get the same support you had last time.
“What I support is a Lakefront casino for Chicago that would bring more jobs and revenue to the area, but I would have to see any legislation before I could say whether or not I would support it.”
State Representative Greg Harris (D-13), who voted for the bill, said that the veto did not come as a surprise. “The governor has consistently objected to any legislation that would expand gambling in the state,” Harris said. “I think that there were good safeguards in this bill. It would have kept the Chicago casino downtown in the entertainment district and it would have been a good source of additional revenue for the state.”
State representative John D’Amico (D-15) also voted for the bill. “It’s disappointing because I thought it would bring jobs and revenue to the state,” D’Amico said. “Now we’re not going to get that revenue.”
D’Amico said that lawmakers likely will introduce different gambling legislation this year. “There’s always room to work and compromise on these issues,” he said. “I think something new will get introduced.”
State Representative Toni Berrios (D-39) also voted for the bill. “I’m disappointed in the veto, especially at a time the budget is in such disarray,” Berrios said. “It would have helped get money for the state without creating new taxes.”