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Editorial: Latest Chicago casino bill looks like a smart bet

Updated: December 10, 2011 9:49AM

It’s time to finally say yes to more legalized gambling in Illinois.

A slightly scaled back and more ethically sound gaming bill may come before the Illinois House on Wednesday and we urge legislators to pass it — and to pass it by a wide enough margin to survive a possible veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Illinois and Chicago, which would get a casino, desperately need the revenue that this more cautious and carefully crafted bill would provide.

A bill authorizing a major expansion of gambling originally was passed by the state Legislature in May. Quinn and Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe understandably ripped it, saying it went too far and would weaken the state’s ability to keep the crooks out of the casinos.

In response to that, backers of the bill have drawn up an alternative that addresses many, though not all, of their concerns. In an encouraging sign, Quinn kept quiet about the new bill on Tuesday, even after it passed out of a committee, its first legislative hurdle.

Quinn did not come out strongly against the bill, as he did on the original bill. A spokeswoman struck a conciliatory tone and said Quinn needed time to study the new bill’s language.

The new bill drops gambling at Chicago airports and the state fairgrounds and reduces by 7,000 the total number of gaming positions, such as blackjack tables and slot machines, allowed in the state.

Overall, the new bill would increase the total number of gaming positions from 12,000 to about 32,000. The bill envisions five new casinos, including one in Chicago.

The bill still allows for slot machines at racetracks, which Quinn opposes. It doesn’t thrill us, either. But we long ago concluded that this concession to the racetracks was necessary to round up enough votes for the larger package.

Importantly, the new bill clarifies and strengthens gaming oversight. It increases the budget for the Gaming Board, which has a strong record of maintaining clean gambling in Illinois. It also clarified that the Gaming Board has final oversight over a city-owned Chicago casino.

The bill drops a dangerous provision that would have forced the gaming board to hand out provisional video poker licenses if it failed to act on an application within 60 days. This would have severely undercut the Gaming Board’s ability to investigate applicants.

We are disappointed that the bill does not include a ban on campaign donations from gaming interests and, like Quinn, we’d like to see a change in the legislation that authorizes video poker in taverns and restaurants.

Municipalities should have to vote to opt into video poker in their communities, rather the current requirement that they have to vote to opt out.

Rep. Lou Lang, the bill’s sponsor, called the new gaming bill a “good faith effort to comply with many of concerns” of the original bill.

We agree. Now it’s Gov. Quinn’s turn to compromise.

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