Ill. Gov. Quinn Calls for Gaming Expansion

He suggests more gaming can help achieve reform of state employee pension system.

By Bob Kieckhefer

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who has vetoed two major gaming expansion plans within the past year, now suggests more gaming might help achieve his primary goal of state employee pension reform.

Gaming expansion proposals currently under legislative debate include authorizing slot machines for the state's struggling race tracks.

In his annual budget address to the General Assembly March 6, Quinn cited pension reform as the major issue facing the state. By some accounts, the state's pension programs are underfunded by nearly $100 billion.

Quinn has proposed several differing solutions to the problem but never previously linked it directly to new revenue from gaming.

While continuing to tout other avenues of pension reform, Quinn said in his budget address, "(T)he State of Illinois, as employer, should also consider additional solutions to break the gridlock. For example, any enhancement that we enact to gaming revenues this year should be dedicated to education, which could include teachers' pensions.

"Of course, gaming expansion has to be done right," the governor said. "It must have tough ethical standards, a campaign contribution ban on casino operators, and no loopholes for mobsters."

The latter reference drew a round of chuckles from lawmakers, who otherwise were silent during the speech.

Quinn's earlier veto messages cited a lack of oversight for new gaming operations, particularly a Chicago casino, and a desire to earmark the resulting new revenue for education. The governor early in his term also objected to adding slots at tracks but more recently seems to have accepted that as a necessary part of any compromise over gaming expansion.

Keeping the issue fresh, a Senate committee met shortly after Quinn's speech and approved a measure thatlike the two Quinn has vetoedwould authorize slot machines for Illinois race tracks, a new land-based casino in downtown Chicago, and four other new casinos at strategic sites around the state.

Supporters said they believe legislation can be crafted to meet the governor's ethical and educational goals.

Meanwhile, the legislature has taken no action to renew advance deposit wagering in Illinois. The enabling law for ADW expired on Jan. 1 and providers have stopped accepting wagers from Illinois-based accounts pending renewal. Two bills to rectify the situation are languishingwithout explanationin the House Rules Committee, which is tightly controlled by Speaker Michael Madigan.