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State’s gambling regulator dubs casino bill a ‘pile of garbage’

Illinois Gaming Board Chairman AarJaffe (pictured 2008) condemned newly revised gambling-expansilegislatias 'Christmas tree' bill thhad only 'cosmetic changes' address concerns

Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe (pictured in 2008) condemned newly revised gambling-expansion legislation as a "Christmas tree" bill that had only "cosmetic changes" to address concerns by state regulators. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 3, 2011 10:03PM

SPRINGFIELD — The state’s chief gambling regulator teed off on the “pile of garbage” that state lawmakers passed last month that would allow a casino in Chicago and put slot machines in the state’s five racetracks.

Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe gave a long dissection of the gambling package at the start of Tuesday’s Illinois Gaming Board meeting, highlighting what he considered to be a series of serious constitutional flaws.

“There are a million things they have to do that they haven’t considered. I’m going to be very polite now and not say what I think,” Jaffe said. “You can’t make perfume out of a pile of garbage.”

The statement comes at a time when the fate of the casino bill, which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought, lies in legislative limbo and on the eve of a Thursday summit on the bill between Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and its two sponsors, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills).

Cullerton has put a parliamentary hold on the bill that prevents it from proceeding to the governor’s desk despite passing both legislative chambers — a maneuver designed to buy time to understand Quinn’s objections and tailor an agreement to avert a possible veto.

The statements by Jaffe, a former House member and Cook County judge, infuriated Lang.

“I have grave concerns about his comments. It’s clear he’s gone way beyond the borders of his job as a regulator,” Lang said Wednesday. “If he wants to go back and be a legislator, he ought to run for the Legislature. If he wants to postulate on the constitutionality of a bill, he ought to go back to being a judge. But he’s neither of those things.”

Quinn has not said outright that he would veto the package and has even offered support for a city casino.

But he has characterized the bill as “top heavy,” leaving backers with the clear impression that he might veto it or attempt to rewrite it in a way to narrow its scope in a move that likely would face legislative resistance and undoubtedly invite a legal challenge if ultimately approved.

“Here’s my suggestion to them, which I don’t expect that anybody will follow: Have the governor and mayor of the city of Chicago meet with legislative leaders and other civic leaders before a bill is proposed and not afterward. You’re just going to make a worse mess than it actually is already,” Jaffe said Tuesday.

Jaffe said the 400-page bill was not given an adequate public airing before it was passed over two days in late May and filled with provisions buried deep within it that would not pass on their own.

“I would suggest to you this bill has taken a legislative journey which would just confound the founders of our country. It’s very, very bad constitutionally, and the Legislature doesn’t follow the Constitution anyway,” he said.

He said the bill would not require racetrack employees to undergo fingerprinting anymore, which is a vital requirement in order to perform criminal background checks.

Jaffe said the staff of the Gaming Board, which now numbers 210 people, would have to “double in size” in order to do an adequate job of policing the state’s expansive gambling industry, and no funding exists to permit that possibility.

He also said the drafters of the bill crafted it in a way that would lead to inevitable turf battles between the Gaming Board, the Illinois Racing Board and new boards that would be created to oversee casino gambling in Chicago and at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

“I realize that the state is in financial trouble. If gaming is the way that our leaders want to go, so be it. But they should do it in a fashion other than the way they did with this particular bill,” Jaffe said.

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