Quinn suggests he won't sign gambling expansion

June 1, 2012

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn strongly said Friday that he'll almost certainly kill the latest General Assembly proposal to add casinos and expand other gambling in Illinois, rejecting changes lawmakers made in the plan to appease the governor.

Both the state House and Senate signed off on the bill Thursday that backers say would generate anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion a year for the cash-started state by allowing four new casinos and allowing horse tracks to add slot machines.

But the governor, who believes the state's annual take would be far less, said Friday that even as Illinois struggles to cut its pension obligations and find the money to make up a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, he isn't likely to budge on his gambling objections.

"I believe in a strong ethical framework of oversight and integrity," he told reporters at the Capitol, explaining some of the things he believes should be part of the plan that so far aren't. "No (election) campaign money from gambling interests. Those are things that I've said over and over again."

Asked if the lack of a measure barring campaign contributions from gambling concerns and other ethical safeguards Quinn would like to see would lead him to veto the bill, Quinn said that's likely.

"That's how I feel," he said. "I think that's how the people of Illinois feel."

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the gambling bill, said he hopes to find a way to convince Quinn to sign the bill but, after what he called a fruitless meeting with the governor earlier this month, isn't optimistic.

"At some point you have to draw the conclusion that he's not a big fan of the bill and regardless of what we do, he's not going to sign it."

That would leave Lang and other bill backers looking for additional votes to make the bill veto-proof. They say they have them in the House but not in the Senate.

The bill would add a casino in Chicago that would be owned by the city and have spots for 4,000 people to gamble at one time, as well as riverboat casinos in Danville, Park City, Rockford and a location yet to be determined in Chicago's south suburbs. Each of the riverboat casinos would have 1,600 gambling positions and the state's 10 existing casinos could expand from their current 1,200 gambling spots each to 1,600. Horse racing tracks would also for the first time be allowed to have slot machines.

The General Assembly passed a similar gambling bill last year but never sent it to Quinn after he threatened to veto it.

Backers like Lang and Sen. Terry Link, its Senate sponsor, said the version passed this week offered concessions to Quinn in eight of the 12 areas he's listed as points of concern.

"If you question the ethics of it, I don't think you could question them now," Link said.

While the gambling bill awaits the next move by the governor, both he and legislative leaders say they'll call lawmakers back to Springfield soon for another try at controlling pension costs that contribute to the state's deep budget problems.

The General Assembly approved a tight budget before it adjourned early Friday morning but deadlocked on pension costs as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Minority Leader Tom Cross jousted over two different proposals.

Quinn said he will work with legislative leaders to come up with an agreement on the $83 billion problem.