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Illinois Governor Vetoes Gambling Expansion

The measure calls for slot machines at racetracks and five new casinos.

By Bob Kieckhefer

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn Aug. 28 vetoed a gaming expansion measure that would have allowed slot machines at racetracks and authorized five new casinos around the state, but in his veto message appeared to keep the door open to a compromise that could be passed during the post-election legislative session.

Racing interests have described the bill as vital for the survival of the industry in Illinois and a financial boon for cash-strapped state and local governments.

"We missed an opportunity today to add 20,000 new jobs and generate more than $1 billion in one-time licensing fees and more than $200 million in new annual revenue," said former state Rep. Bill Black, chairman of the main group supporting the legislation.

Terry Link, who sponsored the measure, said he was "disappointed beyond words" by Quinn's action and would count noses to see if an override could be passed during the veto session. That course of action, however, seemed increasingly uncertain.

When the bill passed during the spring legislative session, it appeared there were enough votes in the House to overcome the governor's objections. Recently, however, powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan said an override is unlikely.

The Senate remained a bigger hurdle as the bill passed there with a bare majority in the spring.

In announcing the veto, Quinn cited "the absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight. Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters."

The governor also had insisted in the weeks before the veto that expansion plans also should include a ban on political contributions by gaming interests.

"We must prevent campaign contributions by gaming operators from infecting our political process," he said in announcing the veto.

However, the governor's veto message cast an unusually avaricious eye on the potential billions of dollars in new revenue the gaming expansion could provide, and seemed to indicate that earmarking much of that money for education--along with ethics fixes--might win him over.

"We cannot forget that Illinois' economic future relies on the education of our children," Quinn said. "This bill does not provide adequate support for education. The budget for pre-school to 12th-grade education was reduced by $210 million by the General Assembly this fiscal year and faces more challenges in the immediate future. Any expansion of gaming must prioritize the needs of our students.

"I call on the members of the General Assembly to work with my staff, the Illinois Gaming Board, the Illinois Racing Board, the City of Chicago, and all other interested parties to ensure that the final version of any gaming legislation includes strong ethical standards, clear oversight, and adequate support for education. Anything short of that is unacceptable and would be a disservice to the people of Illinois"

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who faces his own school-funding crisis, said Chicago officials had been working with the Quinn administration to strike a compromise. Emanuel already has outlined how he would spend the money a Chicago casino would bring in and his strong support would be crucial for an override push.

The deadline for Quinn to act was Aug. 28. He bypassed the option of using his amendatory veto powers to make changes in the law.

Approval of an amendatory veto would have required only a simple majority in each house, rather than the three-fifths majority needed for an override.