* My Sun-Times column last Friday was about the gaming bill’s prospects. I’ve essentially written this same column a few times in the past, whenever a gaming bill appeared to be floundering due to a lack of support by all the leaders. Still, it’s worth the reminder…
The last two decades give us a pretty simple Illinois history lesson: Unless all four state legislative leaders and the governor are pulling hard in the same direction, no gambling expansion bill can become law.
The last significant bill passed a few months after Gov. Pat Quinn was sworn into office. That proposal got rid of the illegal and unregulated video poker machines in taverns, truck stops and fraternal organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and replaced them with a new system controlled by the state.
The unprecedented expansion was designed to help fund Illinois’ massive infrastructure program and was backed by all the biggest players, including the governor, the House speaker, the Senate president and both Republican minority leaders.
Prior to that, former Gov. George Ryan was able to pass a gaming bill that moved a long-dormant casino from near Galena to Rosemont. The move looked simple on paper, but the intricacies of all the deals that had to be cut with existing casino owners, Chicago’s mayor and racetrack owners were mind-boggling.
The other casino owners did everything they could to protect their monopolies, and the track owners, after years of decline, wanted a piece of the pie. But even Ryan, a master of the legislative process, couldn’t pass the big plan he really wanted, which would’ve allowed riverboat casinos in Cook County.
Three gambling expansion plans died under Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and the same fate befell a huge expansion proposal under Gov. Jim Edgar. The common denominator was the lack of unanimous support by the five biggies.
So, it’s really no surprise that the current gaming proposal is stuck in the mud. That bill would give Chicago a casino, plus one each in the Southland, Lake County, Rockford and Danville, along with allowing the racetracks to offer slot machines.
Back in early 2010, Quinn seemed to be leaning in favor of slots at the tracks, or “racinos,” or at least that’s what he is reported to have indicated in a couple of private meetings. But now, Quinn is totally against the idea.
Some say it’s because he received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign last year from two prominent Illinois gaming families — the Pritzkers (who own a big chunk of the Elgin casino) and the Bluhms (whose patriarch, Neil Bluhm, owns the new Des Plaines casino).
Frankly, it doesn’t matter why Quinn opposes racinos or the rest of the proposed legislation. Take him at his word that he believes the expansion plan is just too top-heavy. The only thing that matters is that Quinn opposes it.
The General Assembly tried to go around the governor during the fall veto session, but the revised bill got fewer votes in the House than it did during the spring session.
Some members were absent, another had resigned and a couple of Republicans flipped their votes because they were angry about another bill to give Chicago authority to install speed-enforcement cameras.
But, again, it doesn’t matter why the bill fell so far short. What matters is that Quinn isn’t on board. It can’t become law without him.
The governor took himself out of the legislative game this year with more stupid moves than I have space to recount. His job approval rating among Illinois voters is somewhere around 30 percent. His approval rating in the General Assembly is far lower than that.
But while Quinn has shown all year that he can’t pass a bill to save his life, he still has that veto pen. As long as he does, there’s just no getting around him on a gambling bill.
* Meanwhile, I looked through a new gaming expansion report that the governor’s office is touting. Read the full report by clicking here. The study claims that Illinois would collect only about $160 million in new gaming taxes from the proposed casino expansion.
Most of the media coverage appears based on the study’s summary, but the study itself has some flaws. For instance, the Chicago casino’s “draw” is projected to be limited to almost only the city, and conventioneers and tourists are not fully incorporated into the projections.
The summary also underplays the $500 million in license fees Illinois would receive from the expansion, and an estimated $1.2 billion via a special “reconciliation fee” four years from enactment. And, according to the study, admissions at casinos and racinos would increase 137 percent and gaming revenues would rise by 110 percent.
* Sneed: A racetrack deal?
* New gambling plan pushed before last one in effect
* Editorial: Put video gaming into place before more expansion
* Quinn’s office: Gambling bill not as lucrative as promised
* IL gov report doubts hefty gambling revenues
* Quinn report says ‘racinos’ would cut state’s gambling income
* Pulse: Gaming back in Springfield again
* Warren: The Casino Roadblock