Deal Close for Illinois Gaming Expansion?

Quinn and Emanuel working out agreement, but it will need General Assembly approval.

By  Bob Kieckhefer

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Nov. 30 they are close to a deal that would bring a casino to the Chicago Loopand, presumably, wider gaming expansion including slot machines at race tracks.

Quinn earlier this year vetoed legislation that would have authorized the Loop casino, four other new gaming palaces around the state, and slots at tracks. He said the measure needed tighter ethics standards and that revenue from new gaming should be earmarked for schools.

The governor earlier said he opposed slots at tracks but since appears to have accepted that as a necessary part of an overall bill. Track operators see slots revenue as vital to survival of the industry in Illinois.

The legislature has not acted on the veto but could use any of a variety of parliamentary tactics to get a bill signed into law before a new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 9.

"I'm optimistic by the 9th of January, that we can come up with a bill that meets all of our criteria," Quinn said. "The mayor and I are very close on the issue of strong regulation and ethics and making sure the money goes to schools and infrastructure."

Emanuel sounded a note of caution but added, "As it relates to what the governor noted, some of the issues, on oversight and the type of issues like that, we're in alignment."

Neither the governor nor the mayor offered any details of a potential compromise and lawmakers involved in the issue said Quinn has not been willing to meet with them.

While the dual statements provided hope for supporters of expanded gamingparticularly beleaguered race tracksit does not end debate on the issue.

Neither Quinn nor Emanuel has been particularly effective in dealing with the powerful legislative leaders in Springfield and, in the new General Assembly, both the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate will preside over veto-proof majorities.

Consequently, if Quinn and Emanuel agree on issues the top lawmakers won't accept, the agreement would be meaningless. One potential hangup: Quinn has insisted that a compromise bill include a provision banning political contributions by gaming interests. Emanuel likely doesn't care but some lawmakers rely on those contributions as political lifeblood.

Another red flag: There was some expectation the House and Senate would consider overriding Quinn's veto in the post-election session that winds up next week. Talk of a looming compromise might be enough to derail that effort in hopes of a more collegial solution.