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Self-assured Quinn denounces gambling proposal as flawed

Updated: November 19, 2011 8:50AM

You might not have recognized Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday as he stuck a knife into a gambling expansion bill approved last spring by the Illinois Legislature.

Confident and measured, self-assured and reasoned, Quinn came across as every bit the man in charge as he stepped before reporters to make the case for his common-sense evisceration of what he called a “flawed” plan to triple legalized gambling opportunities in the state.

As he worked his way through a PowerPoint presentation and fielded questions, it struck me that Quinn not only had thought through what he wanted to say but also believed most of it, which hasn’t always seemed to be the case.

Quinn’s proposed framework for a scaled-back alternative — with a casino in Chicago but none at area horse tracks — held true to his stated values and instincts, even as it destroyed the political deal that enabled the legislation to win passage in the first place.

Quinn insisted he wasn’t trying to kill gambling expansion, although his move will likely have that effect, at least for now, by returning lawmakers to square one.

While his proposal might look good on paper to the likes of me, legislators are bound to have other ideas. Cutting out the tracks means less support. That left many of those involved wondering whether this was an honest first effort by Quinn to forge a compromise or a take-it-or-leave-it proposition intended solely to get him off the hook.

I’d say he didn’t leave himself a lot of wiggle room for compromise on the major points.

Quinn’s press conference left me wondering what his public image would be if only every issue facing state government allowed him the opportunity for thorough and deliberative study as he had on this one.

This issue was different thanks to a questionable parliamentary maneuver by Senate President John Cullerton to hold the bill after its passage instead of sending it along to Quinn for what most had expected would be a veto of some sort. That was more than four months ago, giving Quinn ample opportunity to carefully weigh his response.

Quinn said Monday he would indeed veto the bill if it were yet sent to him but questioned whether it would ever get that far.

Quinn’s announcement was a setback for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who lobbied personally for the legislation and tried to persuade the governor to sign it. Emanuel has said Chicago would use its share of revenue from a city-owned casino to rebuild infrastructure, not to fill holes in its operating budget.

“We are encouraged that the governor has come forward with a proposal,” Emanuel responded Monday in a written statement from his office, which practically screamed to include the word “FINALLY,” but didn’t.

The governor was quick to paper over any bad blood with the mayor, saying Emanuel’s reaction had been a “very pleasant one.”

But Quinn also had to remind everyone who runs state government.

“The bottom line is I’m the goalie. I’m the final word,” Quinn said. Not him, being the unspoken message.

Actually, the Legislature can have the final word if it chooses to override the governor, but that would require more votes than proponents of the gambling bill have been able to muster in the past.

Emanuel won’t just give up, either — not after he’s set his sights on something.

If he wants the city to have its own casino, though, the mayor now must consider Quinn’s framework — details of which City Hall was still trying to ascertain late Monday.

The governor said the first order of business in any gambling legislation must be to prevent corruption, suggesting the casino bill approved by the Legislature opened the door to mischief by allowing a Chicago-owned casino to avoid much of the oversight authority the Illinois Gaming Board exercises over all other casinos in the state.

Quinn also would allow only five new casinos instead of the 14 contemplated in the legislation — the main difference being that he wouldn’t allow racetracks to operate their own casinos. Doing so would mean an excessive concentration of legalized gambling in the Chicago area, he said. I’d have to agree.

You can expect this to lead to a new round of threats from racetrack owners that they are going out of business, and it might turn out to be more than just a threat.

The governor took months to clearly set forth a position. Now we’ll see if he can hold firm for the next few weeks.

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