A tense and often confrontational meeting over gambling expansion last week ended with Gov. Pat Quinn being evasive but not explicitly saying “no” to adding slot machines at horse racing tracks.
That might be the beginning of a reversal on the gambling issue for Quinn, who has adamantly opposed allowing tracks to offer slots.
Installing slots at the horse tracks is viewed as essential to passage of the gambling package that was stymied twice last year, once when Quinn adamantly opposed the concept and never was sent the bill to sign. The plan is to add five casinos, including one in Chicago and the south suburbs, in addition to allowing the tracks to offer slots.
There’s been a push on for months to get Quinn to change his mind. The key here is apparently Quinn’s demand for a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests.
It’s widely believed that Quinn has opposed slots at tracks and wants the contribution ban at least partly because of heavy Republican contributions by Craig Duchossois in the 2010 campaign, including several to Quinn’s GOP opponent. Duchossois is the son of Arlington International Racecourse chairman Dick Duchossois.
The meeting last week was apparently quite contentious at times.
“I felt like I almost missed Rod,” cracked one participant afterward.
The governor patronizingly attempted to explain to Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) and Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), who have a combined legislative tenure of 73 years, how to pass a bill. Quinn doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record of passing bills, so that advice didn’t go down too well.
Quinn also angrily told Lang that he would “crush” the legislator if Lang attempted to move a bill without a campaign contribution ban.
The meeting apparently took place because proponents managed to build a roll call that showed 67 House members supporting gambling expansion. That’s four votes shy of overriding a gubernatorial veto, but it’s enough to perhaps make the governor think he might eventually lose.
At one point during the meeting, Link reportedly became fed up with the direction and tone and tried to get things back on track. If, Link said, the General Assembly agreed to a campaign contribution ban from casinos, racetracks, etc., would Quinn agree to slots at tracks?
The governor’s response, according to multiple sources, was that Gary Hannig would be working with them on that. Hannig is Quinn’s chief legislative liaison.
Link then repeated his question. If the Legislature agreed to a contribution ban would Quinn agree to slots at tracks? The governor angrily repeated that Hannig would be working with them on the issue.
Despite his deliberate evasiveness, people at the meeting did make note of the fact that the governor was no longer saying that he flatly rejected slots at tracks.
Hannig was then reportedly told by Lang not to bring him a draft bill that didn’t contain slots at tracks. A majority just doesn’t exist for gaming expansion without help for tracks. Hannig’s response was that he’d try to deliver something the next day.
Well, that day came and went, and no Hannig draft arrived.
But then the House left town for a few days, so the governor’s office still has some time to come up with a plan, even though Lang appeared to be growing restless last week. He’d rather have a negotiated agreement, but there is a strong sense among participants that Quinn wants to delay this issue until after the Nov. 6 election, so they’d better do something soon, either with him or without him.
The theory is that Quinn wants to pass a budget this month without using gaming revenue. Patching budget holes with gambling money could be seen as unseemly, and Quinn is attempting to revive his public image these days.
A new gaming law could also dent Quinn’s image when he’s attempting to be viewed as the man who saved pensions and Medicaid and got the budget back on track. Simply put, gaming would taint Quinn’s upcoming victory lap.
The second part of the theory is that Quinn will announce big problems with the budget before the fall veto session and use those “unforeseen” problems to justify gambling expansion, including a flip-flop on slots at tracks. The flip-flop would pale in comparison to the problems he could fix with a lot more gambling revenue.
Gambling expansion bills have never become law in the past unless all four legislative leaders and the governor were working together. This one probably won’t be any different.
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