Unexpected turn in gambling saga

Bill sponsor may call for repeat vote today

November 10, 2011

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(Flickr/Ryan Williams)

Gov. Pat Quinn scored a victory Wednesday night during an otherwise difficult fall session by helping to defeat a gambling bill in the Illinois House.

The revised gambling bill sponsored by state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) included many changes Quinn requested, such as tighter control by the Illinois Gaming Board over five proposed casinos in Chicago, Lake County, Rockford, Danville and the south suburbs.

But the bill kept a provision allowing the state’s five racetrack owners to install slot machines—a deal-breaker for Quinn and, as a result, for a few lawmakers who changed their minds since May. The bill also lost support due to lawmaker absences. For example, state Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago) supported the bill before but was an “excused absence” for Wednesday’s session. Former Rep. Mark Beaubien (R-Barrington) voted for the bill in May but died unexpectedly in June. His replacement, Rep. Kent Gaffney (R-Wauconda), voted “no” Wednesday night.

Lang’s bill failed 58-53. A roll call vote wasn’t immediately available. The bigger, looser gambling bill got 65 votes in May.

Lang swiftly moved the failed bill to “postponed consideration,” a parliamentary move that would allow him to bring it back for a vote. But lack of momentum may sap the issue for now. 

Quinn spent part of the afternoon summoning lawmakers to his office one by one to chip away support from Lang’s bill. While the new bill, Senate Bill 1849, included many provisions Quinn requested during an October news conference, Lang and Senate sponsor Terry Link (D-Waukegan) kept language allowing slot machines at racetracks, they kept Park City as a host town for a casino, and they declined to include a campaign finance change that would prohibit lawmakers from accepting money from gambling interests—all demands Quinn requested.

But the new bill tightened the rules for video poker machines, which are soon to come on-line, and it cut by about 25 percent the number of spots to gamble system-wide. It eliminated slots at Chicago airports, a racing facility at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, and it clarified the role of the Illinois Gaming Board as the final word on a Chicago casino and all vendors and contracts awarded. Quinn wanted those items included.

Lang said he thought he had the votes to pass it. During debate, he played to downstate lawmakers’ agricultural interests by repeatedly listing the goodies in the bill: more money for county fairs, improvements at the Illinois State fairgrounds and resources for 4-H programs. At one point, he bartered openly with state Rep. Dwight Kay, a downstate Republican, who mentioned the need for a road improvement in his district.

“I will help you with that,” Lang said.

Kay voted against the bill anyway after bickering with Lang, calling the legislation “not right for Illinois, not right for the people of Illinois. We are putting them at risk for the sake of a greenback, and we should be ashamed of that.”

While the gambling bill suffered a setback, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bill that would allow the Chicago City Council to install speed cameras throughout the city passed the House with votes to spare.

It now heads to Quinn’s desk for his signature.

The bill allows the Chicago City Council to decide by July 1 whether to install speed-detection cameras near schools and parks to slow down drivers. The cameras would use technology—either in the pavement or on cameras already attached at intersections to catch red light-violators—to catch motorists, who would receive a ticket in the mail of up to $100 in the mail.

Money generated from the cameras would be devoted to public safety and after-school programs, according to bill sponsor, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie.

Opponents—many suburban and downstate Republicans—called the bill heavy-handed and flawed. And even some Democrats questioned whether it was about public safety.

“This is a huge money grab for the municipality that installs them,” said state Rep. Jack Franks (D-McHenry).

He voted against it.