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Editorial: Pension reform has to be top priority

Gov. PQuinn enters Rainbow/PUSH 930 E. 50th street Founders Day. Saturday December 17 2011 Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Gov. Pat Quinn enters Rainbow/PUSH 930 E. 50th street, on Founders Day. Saturday, December 17, 2011 Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 12, 2013 6:13AM

Gambling by its nature is a pastime that should be pursued only after the real work is done. The Legislature, whose priority right now should be enacting pension reform, forgot that rule this week as it turned its attention to gaming.

On Thursday, the Illinois Senate Executive Committee passed a bill to expand gambling in Illinois. We support a casino in Chicago because the city needs the revenue, but we urge the General Assembly to avoid distractions until pension reform is in place.

That said, there are things to like in this bill. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed two earlier bills, and this one gives him some of the improvements he wanted. But it also includes a new twist — the legalization of Internet gambling. Like those who argue new casinos could bring back spending that now goes to neighboring states, online gambling supporters say legalization would allow Illinois to tax revenues that now go to offshore gambling sites. This is new ground. Only three states — Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey — have legalized online gambling, which eventually could let people gamble right from their cellphones. It’s a bold move that demands serious study.

Like the two bills Quinn vetoed, this one would authorize new casinos for Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Lake County and the south Chicago suburbs. Racetracks and airports would get slot machines. But as Quinn has insisted — saying the state would not leave loopholes for mobsters — this legislation would ban political contributions from gaming licenses, and it reduces the number of new gaming positions. In the end, this will be a better bill because Quinn held fast.

New annual revenue estimates for Illinois from expanded gambling vary widely. But even the highest estimates would come nowhere close to erasing $96 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Pension reform must come first.

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