“We have to make sure when you have the subject of gambling and gaming that everything is done right, from the beginning to the end. I think that’s the only way to go. It’s especially important to have oversight, integrity and protection for the public,” Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said last week about the ongoing debate in Springfield over whether to expand gambling in Illinois. The Governor has long been vocally skeptical over whether expanding the gaming industry in Illinois is the right move.
But does Illinois even need more gambling? And is it the best way to generate revenue? House Representative and sponsor of the bill Lou Lang (D-Skokie) strongly believes so.
"I've been working on this a long time and despite the fact that many think it's about revenue, for me, it's about many other things," said Lang. Mainly, adding jobs and not allowing the horse racing industry to die. It's about "helping a legal industry...grow," Lang said on Eight Forty-Eight. "It could just as easily be the widget industry."
Despite the fact that this legislative session has been crowded with issues to resolve, Lang doesn't think that means gambling expansion is less important.
"Yes, the Medicaid problem was severe. The pension discussion had to continue. We had to balance a state budget and hurt as few people as possible....but nevertheless, that does not mean we shouldn't work on a piece of legislation," said Lang, who's been advocating for gambling for some time. "The opportunity to put people to work is a very important one."
Responding to Governor Quinn's concerns, Lang pointed out that a version of the bill passed last week had concessions on eight of 12 areas the Governor had pointed out as problems.
That said, "Not everybody in Springfield ever gets everything they want," said Lang.
"A lot of people talk about saturation and cannibalization, but my job as a legislator is...to worry about the bottom line," he continued, arguing that it's a matter of free markets. "We wouldn't pass a law limiting McDonalds or Burger Kings."
There's still room for debate over how many jobs gambling expansion would bring the state. Lang says he's heard numbers as low as 25,000 and as high as 100,000. But he's interested in growth in "peripheral industries", like hospitality, and argues that the "upfront fees are not estimates," citing money from backers that could bring $1 billion a year to the state.
"This is just one other way to put people to work, one other way to create opportunities for people, and that's how I've always looked at it," Lang said.
While the Governor will likely veto the bill, Lang said he still thinks there's an opportunity to work it out. And if not, he's prepared to win this victory during veto session, even if it takes longer.