Concerns over gambling expansion resurface

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois lawmakers reopened talks Wednesday on a gambling expansion measure in the hopes of reaching a deal that could get through the Legislature and win the approval of Gov. Pat Quinn, only to see the same issues that doomed earlier proposals resurface.

The sponsor of the bill to add five new casinos and allow slot machines at Chicago’s two major airports and horse racing tracks said he will work to try to address concerns. But Rep. Robert Rita couldn’t say if the plan will be put to a vote yet this fall.

“This is something that I’m committed to getting done and something that needs to be done right,” the Democrat from Blue Island said.

The rehashing of the gambling bill capped a shortened first week of a fall legislative session that saw little new action, at least in public. The Illinois House also ensured museums and aquariums will have to continue offering free admission 52 days a year, upholding action by Gov. Pat Quinn to stop those days from being cut in half.

And opponents of same-sex marriage gathered at the Capitol for a prayer service and rally, pushing back against a measure that would legalize such unions that already has passed the Senate. Supporters of the legislation, which wasn’t called for a vote in the House this spring, held their own event on Tuesday.

Lawmakers said they were still working behind the scenes on a plan to fix the state’s massive public pension shortfall and a separate measure to give financial incentives to several companies, including Archer Daniels Midland Company and Office Max, to keep their headquarters in Illinois.

Both the House and Senate canceled Thursday’s session. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield for the final week of the fall session in early November, when they’re also expected to consider requests from several agencies that say they need more money.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has vetoed two previous gambling proposals over concerns they didn’t include enough protections against corruption.

The bill discussed Wednesday passed the Senate last spring but failed to get a vote in the House, in part because of concerns about oversight of a Chicago casino and how revenues from other casinos would be shared. It calls for casinos in Danville, Rockford, Chicago’s south suburbs and Lake County in addition to the Chicago casino. It also would allow slots at O’Hare and Midway international airports and other locations.

Supporters say the measure could provide the state and local governments with thousands of jobs and millions in much-needed revenue, and keep gamblers from crossing state lines to spend their money in places like Indiana and Wisconsin.

Quinn vetoed the bill to cut free days at museums and aquariums earlier this year. Republican Rep. Joe Sosnowski of Rockford, the sponsor of the measure, said cutting mandatory free days to 26 a year would free up money for museums to do more programs and reach children through schools.

School groups would still be able to attend for free.

The vote to override Quinn’s veto Wednesday was 49-67, far short of the 71 “yes” votes needed, with lawmakers saying kids get more from exhibits than books and that it’s important for children of modest means to have access to the state’s museums.

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