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Editorial: Quinn, legislators must find way to OK gambling

A blackjack dealer  hands out cards Hollywood Casino Aurorlast month.  |  Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

A blackjack dealer hands out cards at the Hollywood Casino in Aurora last month. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:15AM

When it comes to gambling expansion in Illinois, nobody is happy right now.

Gov. Pat Quinn isn’t happy with the legislation he vetoed Tuesday largely because, he said, it doesn’t provide strong ethical safeguards.

“The most glaring deficiency . . . is the absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight,” Quinn said in his veto message.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t happy because he wants the new revenue a casino could provide and can’t get it until a law is enacted.

“A Chicago casino would create thousands of crucial jobs for Chicagoans and provide resources that would be used to rehabilitate neighborhood schools,” Emanuel said Tuesday.

The lawmakers who pushed casino gambling through the General Assembly aren’t happy because, they say, Quinn won’t negotiate with them to draw up a bill everyone can live with. Sen. Terry Link, the chief sponsor in the Senate, said Quinn has moved the goal line so many times that “it’s beginning to feel like a 500-yard field.”

State Rep. Lou Lang, the chief sponsor in the House, said he has repeatedly offered to sit down and hammer out a deal, but he can’t get Quinn to do it.

“I can’t negotiate with smoke,” Lang said.

Taxpayers shouldn’t be any too happy, either, as they watch casino spending go to neighboring states when it could be generating revenue for governments here in Illinois.

As it’s drawn now, the bill would clear the way for a Chicago casino and riverboat casinos in Danville, Park City, Rockford and somewhere in the south suburbs. It also would allow slot machines at racetracks.

Backers say the expansion would generate an estimated $1.5 billion upfront in licensing fees and $500 million a year in tax revenue. It’s estimated that a Chicago casino would bring the city a local revenue share of at least $300 million and create about 2,000 jobs.

Revenue predictions often fall short, but no matter what the total turns out to be, it is money we’re losing out on now.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Quinn was right to veto a bill that doesn’t ban political contributions by holders of gambling license and casino managers. But at this point, the governor also needs to spell out exactly what that ban should say and what else he wants changed, down to the last comma.

Lawmakers should do their best to draft language that addresses Quinn’s concerns, even if they think he has been so vague that they don’t know what would satisfy him.

If Quinn doesn’t act, he risks a legislative override of his veto. If legislators don’t get Quinn on board, they risk coming away with nothing.

Illinois needs a good gambling expansion bill. Our leaders need to get it done.

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