Quinn’s OK a must for more gaming
RICH MILLER email@example.com November 24, 2011 4:46PM
Updated: December 26, 2011 8:52AM
The last two decades give us a pretty simple Illinois history lesson: Unless all four state legislative leaders and the governor are pulling hard in the same direction, no gaming expansion bill can ever become law.
The last significant gaming bill passed a few months after Gov. Pat Quinn was sworn into office. That proposal got rid of the illegal and unregulated video poker machines in taverns, truck stops and fraternal organization clubs like the VFW and replaced them with a new system controlled by the state. The unprecedented expansion was designed to help fund Illinois’ massive infrastructure program and was backed by all the biggest players, including the governor, the House speaker, the Senate president and both Republican minority leaders.
Prior to that, then Gov. George Ryan was able to pass a gaming bill that moved a long-dormant casino from near Galena to Rosemont. The move may look simple on paper, but the intricacies of all the deals that had to be cut with existing casino owners, Chicago’s mayor and racetrack owners were mind-boggling. The casino owners did everything they could to protect their monopolies, and the track owners, after years of decline, wanted a piece of the pie.
But even Ryan, a master of the legislative process, couldn’t pass the big plan he really wanted, which would’ve allowed riverboats to operate in Cook County.
Three expansion proposals died under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the same fate befell a huge expansion proposal under then Gov. Jim Edgar. The common denominator was the lack of unanimous support by the five biggies.
So, it’s really no surprise that the current gaming proposal is stuck in the mud. That bill would give Chicago a casino, plus ones in the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville, along with allowing the racetracks to operate what are known as “racinos.”
Back in early 2010, Quinn seemed to be leaning in favor of racinos, or at least that’s what he is reported to have indicated in a couple of private meetings. But now, Quinn is totally against racinos. Some say it’s because he received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign last year from two prominent Illinois gaming families, the Pritzkers (who own a big chunk of the Elgin casino) and the Bluhms (whose patriarch, Neil Bluhm, owns the brand-new Des Plaines casino).
Frankly, it doesn’t matter why Quinn opposes racinos or the rest of the proposed legislation. Take him at his word that he believes the expansion plan is just too top-heavy. The only thing that matters is that Quinn opposes it.
The General Assembly tried to go around the governor during the fall veto session, but the revised bill got fewer votes in the House than it did during the spring legislative session. Some members were absent, another had resigned and a couple of Republicans flipped their votes because they were angry about another bill to give Chicago the authority to install speed enforcement cameras and reap a revenue windfall.
But, again, it doesn’t matter why the bill fell so far short. What matters is that Quinn isn’t on board. It can’t become law without him.
The governor took himself out of the legislative game this year with more stupid moves than I have space to recount. His job approval rating among Illinois voters is somewhere around 30 percent. His approval rating in the General Assembly is far lower than that.
But while Quinn has shown all year that he can’t pass a bill to save his life, he still has that veto pen, and as long as he does there’s just no getting around him on this one.