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Get gaming bill right

Former Illinois Gov. OtKerner

Former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner

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Updated: July 6, 2012 10:47AM



Just looking at the way a bill to expand legalized gambling in Illinois cartwheeled through Springfield late Thursday makes us think Gov. Pat Quinn’s demand for more ethics safeguards is an excellent idea.

The bill needed 30 votes to pass the Senate, but it was going to be close. That’s when Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), who said she opposed the package, left her seat to get an aspirin. When she got back — surprise — a different legislator had cast an “aye” vote on her behalf, giving the gambling legislation that last vote it needed.

We only wish we would have that kind of luck next time we need to fill an inside straight in a friendly poker game.

We have long supported gambling expansion in Illinois because Chicago and the state need the money. The extra gambling could pump another $300 million into public coffers every year (backers say it could be as much as $1 billion). On top of that, licensing and a special tax could produce a one-time infusion of more than $1 billion.

The gambling expansion package would authorize a land-based casino in Chicago and riverboats in Rockford, Danville, Park City and the south suburbs. It also would allow slot machines at race tracks.

But Quinn on Friday said he won’t sign the package without a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests.

The Legislature should approve those ethical protections as soon as it reconvenes. Illinois and Chicago are swamped in red ink. The extra revenue would help.

The gambling package isn’t perfect, but concessions have to be made when you need to attract enough votes to pass a bill. That’s why we’re OK with, as part of the deal, giving slot machines to race tracks.

But we should all see the wisdom of — and insist on — strong anti-corruption safeguards. After all, this is a state where a former governor, Otto Kerner, went to prison over a shady race track stock deal. And the whole history of gambling shows it to be an industry in which only constant vigilance can keep organized crime at bay.

Some legislators worry that banning contributions from a single industry wouldn’t pass constitutional muster. But several other states already have such bans.

Fix the package, and get it passed. We need it.



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