Most people looked at last week’s veto by Gov. Pat Quinn of the gambling expansion bill and saw nothing except defeat for the issue. But the governor appeared to deliberately leave open some doors that you could drive a riverboat through.
For instance, nowhere in his veto message did Quinn mention slot machines at horse tracks.
Quinn had been an adamant foe of allowing the horse racing industry to set up “mini casinos” at their tracks, believing it would mean an oversaturation of the gambling market. He cited the inclusion of slots at tracks in last year’s gambling bill as a major reason why he opposed the legislation.
But Quinn subtly began to back away from his opposition, which was included in his “Framework for Gambling in Illinois” plan in October that he wrote in response to criticisms that he wasn’t making his positions known to negotiators.
In May, during a meeting with gambling proponents, Quinn refused to say whether he would agree to slots at tracks if legislators included a ban on campaign contributions from casino operators. That refusal was taken as a big hint that Quinn had backed off, and governor’s office insiders confirmed that was the direction he was heading.
Reporters then tried for days to get Quinn to say in public if he still opposed slots at tracks, and he would always refer them to his “framework” in response.
Quinn’s veto message last week outlined his main opposition to the bill, which mostly followed his “framework” from last year. He strongly highlighted his demand that casino companies not be allowed to make campaign donations (although he didn’t mention contributions from immediate family members of casino operators, who generously pumped up his campaign fund during the 2010 cycle).
Quinn also sharply criticized what he considers to be a lack of oversight of a new Chicago casino. The governor repeated his assertions from his October framework that the bill doesn’t give the Illinois Gaming Board adequate time to “make critical licensing and regulatory decisions.” And he said again that money from expanded gambling needs to go to education.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fought hard against too much state oversight of a city casino. But Quinn made clear last week in his veto message that Emanuel will have to give in on that, and, to his credit, the mayor seems to be willing to do so.
It’s also clear that some sort of contribution ban will have to be put in place for the governor to be convinced. The ban won’t really work all that well. The casinos could just contribute to other funds, which would wash their money back into the system.
For example, Indiana prohibits contributions from casino operators, but the Republican Governors Association’s “super PAC” gave $1 million to Indiana’s GOP gubernatorial candidate last month, and the RGA has received at least $1 million from a single casino owner.
Money will always find a way into the political process. Quinn received several large campaign contributions from an immediate family member of the Des Plaines casino owner in 2010.
Even so, word is that Dick Duchossois is open to a contribution ban. Duchossois owns Arlington Park racecourse via his interest in a big corporation. His son’s massive contributions to Republicans in 2010 reportedly sparked Quinn’s ire. And some of Quinn’s Democratic friends who have casino ownership are major Duchossois haters.
But if Duchossois agrees to a contribution ban, even implicitly, then that particular issue might see some progress — although we could probably expect a vigorous court challenge from other casino owners on 1st Amendment grounds.
In May, insiders said Quinn wanted to wait until the Legislature’s November veto session to deal with gambling expansion and then use the future tax revenue to heroically fix a gaping budget hole. The second part of that is coming to fruition with Quinn’s demand that much of the tax money from more gambling go to education.
The General Assembly cut the education budget by $210 million this spring, and the gambling expansion is expected to bring in about $200 million a year. Quinn could, therefore, claim that he had “saved” the education budget with gambling growth.
The veto session part is a bit more tenuous, however. Quinn wrote in his veto message that the state cannot “gamble its way out of our fiscal challenges.” The governor claimed that “even a casino on every street corner cannot repair the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability.”
The governor’s message was pretty emphatic. There will be no gambling expansion until pension reform is in place.