>By Emily Miller

Emily is the BGA’s Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator. Contact her at emiller@bettergov.org.

As he was threatening to veto a bill authorizing a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn was also releasing a “framework for gaming”—his blueprint for fixing what, from his perspective, ails the General Assembly’s latest legislative attempt to swell the ranks of casinos, slot machines and gambling venues.

When the BGA recently examined the mammoth gaming bill, SB 744, it found a dismal lack of solid research and analysis behind the bill’s contention that more gaming will result in a jobs and revenue bonanza for Illinois. So the BGA called on Quinn not to consider backing the bill without an exhaustive, in-depth examination of the legislation’s details, including: economic risks and rewards; social costs; the impact of Chicago owning its own casino; and the ability of regulators to prevent an infusion of gaming-related criminal activity.

Overall, the Governor’s office did what the BGA suggested after the gaming bill was passed with no public hearings during the waning days of the last General Assembly session. Over the summer, Quinn’s staff spoke with scores of public interest groups, including the BGA, community leaders, anti-gaming forces and pro-gambling interests. After completing the due diligence, Quinn threatened his veto, explaining there are faulty assumptions in the current bill, and other elements he can’t support.

The issues include:

  • Revenue windfall. The Governor’s office determined the gaming expansion was not targeted in the best possible way to pull gamblers away from neighboring states while minimizing the potentially negative impact of new gambling venues on current casino towns. In other words, he didn’t buy the pro-gaming hype.
  • Limiting gaming growth. Quinn has proposed a smaller and more targeted gaming expansion. He favors cutting the number of new casinos to five from the 14 authorized by SB 744. He wants to eliminate slot machines at both major airports in Chicago and all 7 “racinos,” including the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
  • Regulatory, contracting woes. Quinn’s analysis also highlighted a number of regulatory shortcomings in SB 744, including the fact that the Illinois Gaming Board lacks the time, authority and resources to thwart corruption
  • Banning campaign cash. To curb potential conflicts of interest and improper influence, Quinn’s office has also proposed banning contributions to lawmakers from gaming licensees and casino managers, a policy that’s already in effect in Iowa, Michigan, and Indiana.

The work of the governor’s office demonstrates a lot of time, effort and research went into the analysis, and that’s something the BGA hasn’t seen from any of the other governmental entities involved in legislation with such sweeping implications for Illinois.

This week during the fall veto session, Senate President John Cullerton said the gaming expansion bill was on hold and that he would soon be hammering out details of a new gaming bill with the governor. Lawmakers have the chance to give Quinn’s framework the same thoughtful consideration he gave to the original gaming proposal.

Let’s hope political maneuverings and ambitions don’t get in the way of a real public dialogue about the impact gaming expansion will have on Illinois.