SPRINGFIELD – The head of the board that regulates Illinois' gambling said Tuesday that a proposed expansion calling for five new casinos raises so many questions about oversight of a Chicago casino that it should be separated into its own bill.
While it was unlikely that Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe's idea would take shape before Friday's end-of-session deadline, similar ethical concerns have been echoed in the governor's office and came as final negotiations were in the works. The bill calls for casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County, as well as numerous slot machines. It also sets aside revenues for certain groups.
Jaffe has publicly blasted the proposal – which remained in a House committee Tuesday – because it establishes a separate board to oversee a Chicago casino. He said giving that control to a board of mayoral appointees leaves the door open for corruption. He told The Associated Press that the bill is trying to do too much.
"It's a Christmas tree bill," Jaffe told the AP. "You have one political party that is in the governor's mansion, controlling the Senate, controlling the House. You're telling me they can't pass one bill that will give the city of Chicago a casino? That blows my mind."
The latest gambling proposal was seen as the best shot yet.
Gov. Pat Quinn twice vetoed plans over ethical concerns, but said this year he'd support a plan with ethical protections, money for schools and if lawmakers send him a pension overhaul.
Quinn's office said the Chicago Democrat wants more strict oversight of the Chicago casino and not just for regulatory issues. He wants the state board to approve the bidding process for the operator, location, master plan and contracts. Also, if the owner of the building is a private entity, the proposed ban on contributions from the industry should extend to the owner.
In recent days, the proposal has hit some snags.
The longtime backer, Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, dropped sponsorship last week over a "perceived conflict of interest." That left the new sponsor, Democratic Rep. Robert Rita of Blue Island, to navigate the 500-some page bill with the clock ticking.
Rita said he's in talks with Quinn's office, Republicans and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's staff. He said the Chicago casino would not be separated into its own bill as lawmakers have twice approved gambling expansions with a city casino. He declined to give specifics, saying only that he's reworking a new version of the bill with altered tax rates.
"We're navigating through this and we're looking for common ground where this could work," Rita told the AP.
Emanuel has defended the Chicago board, saying city taxpayers should benefit from the casino they own.