Gov. Quinn rejects plan to expand Illinois gambling
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday vetoed outright a massive gambling expansion bill, setting up a potential showdown with the General Assembly during its post-election veto session.
Quinn said Senate Bill 1859 failed in a number of areas, including that it didn’t contain a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests, lacked adequate oversight for a planned Chicago casino and didn’t provide enough money for education.
“Anything short of that is unacceptable and would be a disservice to the people of Illinois,” Quinn said in his veto message.
Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, House sponsor of the bill, called the veto “extremely disappointing, but predictable.” He said he made several overtures to Quinn about what ethics language the governor wanted, but received no response.
“I don’t think he ever had any intention of signing the bill,” Lang said.
“If he had intentions of signing the bill, he would have been dealing with us in the last 60 days to see what we could do,” agreed Sen. Terry Link D-Waukegan, Senate sponsor of the bill. Link said the governor didn’t do that.
Link was incensed that Quinn said the bill lacks strict ethical standards. In his veto message, Quinn said, “Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters.”
“We did not weaken anything in the ethics that are there right now,” Link said. “Does this mean mobsters can get in today?”
Quinn could have used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite the bill to his liking. Lawmakers then could have accepted those changes with simple majority votes in the House and Senate.
At an appearance Tuesday, though, Quinn said a rewrite wasn’t a realistic option.
“This has too many deficits,” Quinn said. “It’s one thing if you had to make a technical change here or there. This bill falls way short of what the people of Illinois need in ethical government.”
The General Assembly can try to override Quinn during the veto session. An override requires a three-fifths vote, or 36 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House. When it passed in May, the expansion bill got only 30 votes in the Senate and 69 in the House. By General Assembly rule, an override attempt must start in the Senate.
“I really think it is dead,” said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, who supports the expansion.
Quinn also predicted that his veto will stand.
“I think what I did today, that veto will be sustained,” Quinn said. “I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Racing in peril?
However, Republican Reps. Raymond Poe of Springfield and Rich Brauer of Petersburg both said they believe the votes can be mustered to override Quinn’s veto. In a statement, Poe said the bill generates too much money for the state to ignore.
“While this legislation was not a cure-all, the estimated $300 million to $1 billion in tax revenues would certainly give our state a much needed cash infusion,” Poe said.
The bill would have authorized five new casinos in Rockford, Chicago, Danville, Park City and the south Chicago suburbs. It would have allowed existing casinos to expand and permitted horse racing tracks to install slot machines.
The Chicago casino was to operate outside the authority of the Illinois Gaming Board, something Quinn said was unacceptable. Quinn also said at an appearance Tuesday that “any new revenues have to be dedicated to schools, not other things.”
Yet, downstate lawmakers like Bomke, Poe and Brauer have said the fact the bill sets aside money for agriculture programs convinced them to support it.
Slots at tracks were supposed to help the state’s ailing horse racing industry.
“They’re just hanging on by a thread, and I think that thread’s just been cut,” Bomke said.
“Sen. Bomke is right,” said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association. “If this is not handled this fall, if we don’t have a solution this fall, in 2014 I don’t know how harness racing will exist in the state.”
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.