Slot Machine

Slot Machine

Anne M. Eberhardt

Illinois Awaits Action on Gambling Bill

The measure, which includes racetrack slots, is awaiting action by the governor.

by Bob Kieckhefer

The clock is running on what could be a final push to authorize Illinois racetracks to run slot machines many in the industry see as vital to survival.

Legislation dramatically expanding gaming in Illinois, including authorization of racetrack slots, passed the General Assembly in the waning hours of the spring session. It was sent on to Gov. Pat Quinn June 29, starting the clock on a 60-day window for him to act.

It's the closest a slots bill has gotten to the finish line. A similar bill passed last year but was never sent to the governor for fear of a veto.

Three things could happen:

Quinn could simply not act on the bill, and it would become law without his signature. Because he has serious objections to some provisions of the legislation, that is unlikely.

He could veto the bill outright. A three-fifths majority in each house would be required for an override. Lacking that, the bill would die and lawmakers would have to draft and pass a new bill that would satisfy the governor.

Quinn could use the sweeping amendatory veto power granted him by the 1970 Illinois constitution to rewrite the bill to satisfy his objections. The legislature could accept the changes by a majority vote in each house or override the veto by a three-fifths majority.

In the former case, the bill would become law as revised. In the latter, it would become law as originally passed. If neither of those actions succeeded, the bill would die.

Quinn's stated concerns with the bill involve ethics. The governor said he wants to make sure new gambling venues are not infiltrated by undesirables, and that the Illinois Gaming Board has ultimate oversight over a new Chicago Loop casino, also authorized by the legislation.

The governor, however, is in a bit of a bind in deciding how to proceed.

Supporters of the legislation believe they have enough votes to override an outright veto. When the bill passed during the spring session, it did appear a three-fifths majority might be there in the House if needed, but not the Senate. After the November election, things could look a lot different, especially if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel starts turning the screws.

Rather than roll the dice with an outright veto, risking a big loss on the ethics issue and the embarrassment of a very visible legislative defeat, Quinn appears to have the door open to negotiating a compromise. While in the past he has fulminated against the very idea of a big expansion of gaming, he scaled back his analysis to say only that the current version of the legislation still needs work.

"The ship isn't going to leave port unless it has all the cargo on it," Quinn said. "And the cargo starts with tough oversight that's no-nonsense to make sure that we don't get the wrong characters involved in gambling in the state of Illinois, particularly Chicago."

It would be a relatively simple matter--as much as anything is ever simple in Springfield--for Quinn to rewrite the bill in an agreed form and for the legislature to approve the changes by a simple majority. The main sticking point in the back-and-forth between branches of government appears to be Quinn's insistence on banning political campaign contributions by gaming interests. Sponsors of the legislation say they don't believe it would be constitutional to prohibit contributions from such a narrowly defined class.

It also is true that lawmakers who sponsor bills expanding gaming tend to expect significant campaign help from gaming interests. A ban could put a dent in their re-election funding.

It is said to be a life-and-death issue for Illinois racing. The state's racetracks are holding on now by doling out funds generated by earlier legislation that gave them a percentage of revenue from the state's biggest casinos. That money will run out after 2013 and, without new revenue, purses would tumble and some tracks could close.