By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn shot down a gambling expansion bill today, but supporters hope to revisit the issue after the general election.
The move from Quinn today came as no shock to the bill’s sponsor. Quinn has kept quiet on what he intended to do, but he has been publicly critical of the bill. “The actions of the governor are disappointing, but they’re certainly not surprising,” said Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang.
Senate Bill 1849 would have created licenses for five new casinos statewide: in Chicago, Park City, Danville, Rockford and in the south suburbs of Chicago. The location of the fifth casino would have been up to Illinois Gaming Board. The bill includes slot machines at horse racing tracks and would allow individual casinos to increase their gaming positions from the current limit of 1,200 to 1,600.
Quinn threatened to veto a similar expansion, SB 744, last year, calling it a “massive" gambling expansion. Senate President John Cullerton used a procedural move to block the measure from making it to Quinn’s desk. Quinn has also voiced opposition to allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.
The governor said in today’s veto message that he saw some positive changes in SB 1849, such as reductions in the scale of the gambling expansion from what was proposed in SB 744. However, he said that the newer bill did not have strong enough ethical standards. “The most glaring deficiency of Senate Bill 1849 is the absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight. Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters,” he wrote.
“We don’t have any corruption in Illinois gaming. Where is his evidence that there is any mafia in Illinois gaming today? There isn’t any,” Lang said.
Quinn made several suggestions in his veto message for improving the measure, such as banning campaign contributions from gaming licensees and casino managers.
Lang said he was willing to include any of the governor’s requested ethics measures and asked Quinn to provide him any provisions he wanted included before the legislation was called for a floor vote. “He wouldn’t give me any language, and so we proceeded and passed a bill,” Lang said.
He said that Quinn had another opportunity to add in the ethics measures he wanted with his veto pen but opted not to. “The fact that he vetoed the bill instead of amendatory vetoed the bill tells you everything you need to know.”
Lang added, “I have to draw the conclusion that he was never interested in gaming.”
When asked why he did not make his own changes to the bill, Quinn said: “It just has too many defects. It’s one thing if you had to make some technical changes here and there, but this bill just falls way short of what the people of Illinois need when it comes to ethics in government.”
He said he planned to work with lawmakers to craft “a better bill,” which he described as “one that can meet all the requirements of integrity and also make sure the money goes to schools and education.”
However, Lang said that he thinks it is possible to rally enough support for an override in the legislature's November veto session, despite a comment from House Speaker Michael Madigan to the contrary. “Speaker Madigan was only making a prediction,” Lang said.
“I’m very saddened,” said Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link, who also sponsored the bill. “This is just ridiculous. Again, we have done everything possible to make this work, and again, the goal line has changed.”
An override would have to start in the Senate, and Link said he has not yet made up his mind. He said he plans to decide in the time between the general election and veto session. “We’ve got a three-week window in there, and we’ll be doing a lot of phone calling then,” He said.
“People will be either comfortable or happy or sad or whatever they are.”
Link admitted, “It will be in the back of my mind for the next two months.”
Quinn used his veto message to again urge lawmakers to take up the issue of pension reform. A recent special session on pensions produced no substantial results. “Illinois cannot gamble its way out of our fiscal challenges. Even a casino on every street corner cannot repair the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability. I urge the members of the Illinois House and Senate to address the most pressing issue of our time — comprehensive public pension reform.”