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Quinn suggests he won’t sign gambling expansion

Caption
(AP photo)
Gov. Pat Quinn speaks Friday with reporters in his office at the state Capitol in Springfield. Quinn responded to lawmakers challenging him once again with legislation that would expand gambling across the state, the failure to pass pension reforms and how lawmakers dealt with two measures affecting the state's overcrowded prisons.

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn strongly said Friday that he’ll almost certainly kill the latest General Assembly proposal to add casinos and expand other gambling in Illinois, rejecting changes lawmakers made in the plan to appease the governor.

Both the state House and Senate signed off on the bill Thursday that backers say would generate anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion a year for the cash-starved state by allowing four new casinos and allowing horse tracks to add slot machines.

But the governor, who believes the state’s annual take would be far less, said Friday that even as Illinois struggles to cut its pension obligations and find the money to make up a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, he isn’t likely to budge on his gambling objections.

“I believe in a strong ethical framework of oversight and integrity,” he told reporters at the Capitol, explaining some of the things he believes should be part of the plan that so far aren’t. “No [election] campaign money from gambling interests. Those are things that I’ve said over and over again.”

Asked whether the lack of a measure barring campaign contributions from gambling concerns and other ethical safeguards Quinn would like to see would lead him to veto the bill, Quinn said that’s likely.

“That’s how I feel,” he said. “I think that’s how the people of Illinois feel.”

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the gambling bill, said he hopes to find a way to persuade Quinn to sign the bill but, after what he called a fruitless meeting with the governor earlier this month, isn’t optimistic.

“At some point you have to draw the conclusion that he’s not a big fan of the bill and regardless of what we do, he’s not going to sign it.”

That would leave Lang and other bill backers looking for additional votes to make the bill veto-proof. They say they have the votes in the House but not in the Senate.

The bill would add a casino in Chicago that would be owned by the city and have spots for 4,000 people to gamble at one time, as well as riverboat casinos in Danville, Park City, Rockford and a location yet to be determined in Chicago’s south suburbs. Each of the riverboat casinos would have 1,600 gambling positions and the state’s 10 existing casinos could expand from their current 1,200 gambling spots each to 1,600. Horse racing tracks would also for the first time be allowed to have slot machines.

The General Assembly passed a similar gambling bill last year but never sent it to Quinn after he threatened to veto it.

Backers such as Lang and Sen. Terry Link, its Senate sponsor, said the version passed this week offered concessions to Quinn in eight of the 12 areas he listed as points of concern.

“If you question the ethics of it, I don’t think you could question them now,” Link said.

Both Lang and Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, who has for years pushed for gambling expansion to create revenue and jobs in his struggling town on the Indiana border, said they hope the potential addition of slot machines at horse tracks might change the minds of some senators who now oppose the bill.

“We’ll need to try to gather some Republicans and certainly some downstate votes who recognize how important this bill is to the horse racing industry,” Eisenhauer said.

While the gambling bill awaits the next move by the governor, both he and legislative leaders say they’ll call lawmakers back to Springfield soon for another try at controlling pension costs that contribute to the state’s deep budget problems. Quinn said Friday he’ll meet with legislative leaders on the subject next week.

The General Assembly approved a tight budget before it adjourned early Friday morning but deadlocked on pension costs as House Speaker Michael Madigan and Minority Leader Tom Cross jousted over two different proposals.

Quinn said must move quickly on the $83 billion problem but said little about how to do that beyond everyone working together.

___

Associated Press writers John O’Connor, Christopher Wills and Shannon McFarland contributed to this report.

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