Quinn takes strong stand against gambling bill

June 1, 2011 4:17:04 PM PDT
Governor Pat Quinn made it clear Wednesday that he opposes the gambling bill passed by the Illinois legislature.

"I think any person, any person with common sense, looking at that bill would say it's excessive," said Gov. Quinn.

Quinn doesn't like the gambling bill passed by the Illinois legislature this week. The measure allows five new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago.

Despite his criticism, Governor Quinn did not say if he would veto the gambling bill.

Legislators think Governor Quinn won't be able to resist the promise of billions of dollars in new revenue. Wednesday afternoon, though, the governor hinted he may use his power to shrink the proposed expansion of gaming.

"Illinois is not for the gamblers, it's for the people," Quinn said. "And my job is to make sure the people come first."

Pat Quinn promises to push back against the legislature.

He is for a Chicago casino, but maybe not two others approved Tuesday for the suburbs, two elsewhere in the state, and slot machines at racetracks and airports.

"I intend to use the power of this office-- the governor of Illinois is the supreme, executive authority, and I intend to use it in a way that helps the people," said Quinn.

Quinn will have to choose his battle lines carefully. If he uses his amendatory veto power to scale back the casino bill too much, he risks scuttling the whole deal, and along with it an estimated $1.5 billion in upfront fees and $500 million in new revenue for the state every year.

And remember: This is a governor who is already asking the legislature to restore money just cut.

"Our legislators in some ways I think didn't do their jobs, they kicked bills into the next fiscal year," Quinn said. "That's not cutting a budget. I think you have to invest in things that count, that create jobs, matter for people."

Just down the hall the phone from where Quinn spoke Wednesday, the phone rings non-stop in the comptroller's office. People call demanding to know when the state will pay its bills.

Illinois has more than 180,000 unpaid bills totaling nearly $4 billion. They're just now writing checks to companies that provided services more than six months ago. The state comptroller says the income tax hike hasn't helped yet.

"People assume that that went for unpaid bills. None of it went," said Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. "The majority was already spoken for in terms of the pension, the state had to pay pensions and the other part went toward Medicaid payments."

So what should schools, business owners and others do if deadbeat Illinois won't pay?

"If we don't do anything, they have to go to the court of claims and sue the state. That would be disastrous," said State Senate President John Cullerton on Tuesday.

The legislature has gone home with a lot of unfinished business. As for the gambling bill, once it arrives on the governor's desk he will have 60 days to decide whether to fight to cut the number gaming options proposed or sign it and get the quick cash.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other casino supporters are hoping to use that time to convince Quinn to sign the bill.

"I understand he is going to look at it and see it as an opportunity and weigh it, that it means to the city on job growth and further investment on our revenue infrastructure and education of our children," said Emanuel.

Selling it as an economic development issue is how the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is hoping to convince Governor Quinn. Chamber president Jerry Roper has been pushing for a Chicago casino for years.

"We see the opportunity for more hotels. We see more opportunities to attract a permanent Cirque du Soleil to Chicago," said Roper.

Roper says somewhere in downtown Chicago would be the perfect location. With Block 37 off the market, Roper says the Congress Hotel site on Michigan Avenue would be ideal to attract tourists.

"You can't turn around and hide these things because some people don't like them," said Roper. "You've got to make it appealing and do it the right way."

Rather than Vegas-style, Roper envisions a European-looking Chicago casino, like the ones in Monte Carlo, Vienna or Amsterdam.

Mayor Emanuel says: Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

"I want to get this thing signed into law," Emanuel said, "then we are going to get a blue ribbon group to think through where, how, what makes most sense."


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