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Quinn vetoes casino bill, pushing gaming expansion back to square one

Updated: April 6, 2013 6:33AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed legislation Monday that would have brought casinos to Chicago, the south suburbs and Downstate, arguing the 2011 measure that had been sent to him in early January was a “bad bill for the people of Illinois.”

The governor’s move kills the chance of Chicago getting its own casino, meaning state lawmakers will have to start from scratch this spring with another gambling-expansion bill.

The measure that Quinn acted on Monday, which also would have permitted casino wagering at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, was sent to him at the conclusion of January’s lame-duck legislative session after Senate Democrats had placed a parliamentary hold on it after its May 2011 passage.

“This bill allows for an excessive expansion that is simply too much, including a casino at the fairgrounds where families bring their children,” Quinn said in his veto message to lawmakers.

Previously, Quinn had belittled the effort as “top-heavy” and “excessive,” and the top state gambling regulator appointed by the governor called it a “pile of garbage.”

On Monday, the governor said the legislation, Senate Bill 744, didn’t contain enough ethical and regulatory safeguards nor provide money for schools.

“This is a bad bill for the people of Illinois. As I made clear when I vetoed Senate Bill 1849 last summer,” the governor said, alluding to a later gambling expansion package sent to his desk, “I will not approve of any gaming expansion without strong ethical standards, comprehensive oversight and dedicated resources for education.

“Unfortunately, Senate Bill 744 is even more significantly flawed than Senate Bill 1849. Senate Bill 744’s most glaring deficiency is the total absence of comprehensive ethical standards and regulatory oversight,” he continued. “This bill also lacks a ban on campaign contributions by gaming licensees and casino managers, which is essential to keeping corruption out of the gaming industry.”

Quinn also told lawmakers that they were mistaken to think that a casino package would solve the state’s pension crisis.

“We cannot gamble our way out of our pension challenge,” the governor wrote. “Any gaming revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to the $96 billion unfunded pension liability that Illinois faces. I urge lawmakers to prioritize public pension reform the most urgent issue facing our state. The people of Illinois deserve no less.”

The plan, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) and Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would lead to casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County and Downstate plus permit slot machines at racetrack and, possibly, the city’s two airports.

Even before its passage, Quinn had communicated his displeasure toward the bill and later demanded a series of changes in order for him to consider accepting it, including prohibitions on gambling contributions.

Because the 97th General Assembly that passed Senate Bill 744 is now in the history books, Quinn’s action Monday means the Legislature can’t override Monday’s veto.

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