Quinn calls for new gambling bill

October 17, 2011 8:38:42 PM PDT
Gov. Pat Quinn says the Illinois gambling bill has major flaws. He says he would approve five new casinos, including one in Chicago, that are in the bill. But he says 'no' to slot machines at Illinois racetracks and Chicago airports.

For months, the governor has made it clear he had serious reservations about the gambling expansion bill.

"I think it's important that the people of Illinois understand that the current bill has major flaws in it," he said, carrying a copy of the 409-page bill at a news conference Monday.

Senate bill 744 -- passed last spring by the General Assembly -- would license five new land-based casinos in Chicago, southern Cook County, Lake County, Rockford and downstate Danville. However, the governor said he would not sign a bill that allows slot machines at the state fairgrounds and six Illinois racetracks or slots on the concourses of both O'Hare and Midway airports. Quinn said the sheer number of new gambling positions in 744 as currently written would harm the state's image and overwhelm the Illinois gaming board.

""In my opinion, I made a reasonable decision to scale back 14 casino gaming locations, including at the racetracks, to five. And I think five is enough. That's more, I think, than reasonable," Quinn told ABC7.

The bill, which has never made it to the governor's desk, passed the House and Senate with support from many downstate Republican lawmakers trying to save the state's horseracing industry. Its Senate sponsor worries that a reworked bill without slots for racetracks might not pass.

"I think we would have a hard time passing the bill without the slots at the track," said Sen. Terry Link, (D) Vernon Hills.

Link says he will introduce a new measure in the coming days that lowers the numbers of slot machines proposed for race tracks and the airports by 26 percent.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement saying he was encouraged by the inclusion of a Chicago casino by the governor as were some south suburban ministers who wish for a new casino in impoverished Ford Heights.

"I believe today he has done the right thing so we can move forward," said Rev. William McCoy, south suburbs.

In the south suburbs Quinn won huge majorities in the 2010 state election.

"I know that when you look at the stats and see where your votes came from that you automatically know you need to help us because we helped you," said Apostle Carl White, south suburbs.

The governor said the bill would allow some slot machine operators to hold provisional licenses during their background checks that could take months or years because of backlogs at the state gaming board. Critics say that is an opening for organized crime.

Quinn says there is no way he will sign bill 744 as written.

"Too many defects. And we're not gonna do it wrong the first time. We're gonna do it right the first time and the only time," he said.

Arlington Park race track throws off $800,000 a year in tax revenue to the village of Arlington Heights. It's money locals fear will dry up without the added allure of slot machines.

"I think the entire racing industry in Illinois will have problems. They will seriously face closure," Joseph Farwell , Arlington Heights trustee.

Racetrack owners have been saying for years their industry is handicapped by nearby casinos that suck their betters away.

In Cicero, management at Hawthorne Race Course says 13 other states allow track side slots.

"We're going to survive by laying people off as opposed to thriving with slots where we're hiring people," said Tim Carey, Hawthorne Race Course general manager.

"It would be difficult to turn your back on 30,000 plus employees in the horseracing industry," said Thom Serafin, Arlington Park Race Track spokesman.

Gov. Quinn is also proposing new ethics and regulatory rules on gaming, including a ban on casino owners donating to politicians.

Powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan has recused himself from the casino debate. His spokesperson refused to say specifically why. ABC7's news partner the Daily Herald says it's because Madigan's law firm represents the owners of the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

The legislature returns to Springfield next week for the fall veto session. It could be a chance for the House and Senate to rewrite the gaming expansion bill to the governor's liking.

Statement from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Gaming Bill Progress

"We are encouraged that the Governor has come forward with a proposal. We are anxious to work with him and the leadership in the Illinois General Assembly so that we can soon begin creating tens of thousands of jobs for Chicagoans and make the investment in the city's aging infrastructure that will secure a successful future for Chicago.

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