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Thursday, May 24, 2012 04:24 am

Quinn may be softening on gambling expansion

An often tense and confrontational meeting over gaming expansion last week ended with Gov. Pat Quinn not explicitly saying “no” to adding slot machines at horse racing tracks. That might be the beginning of a reversal for Quinn, who has adamantly opposed allowing tracks to have more gambling options.

Quinn has opposed allowing slots at tracks for over a year as part of a deal to give Chicago, the suburbs and Downstate new casinos. But with the racetracks out of the picture, the bill just can’t pass. So, 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 gaming interests. It’s widely believed that Quinn has opposed slots at tracks and wants the campaign 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 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, Rep. Lou Lang and Sen. Terry Link (with 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 Rep. Lang that he would “crush” the legislator if Lang attempted to move a bill without a campaign contribution ban.

The sit-down apparently took place because proponents managed to build a roll call that showed 67 House members currently support a new gaming expansion bill. That’s four votes shy of overriding a gubernatorial veto, but it is enough to perhaps make the governor think he might eventually lose.

At one point during the meeting, Sen. 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 state 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 flat-out rejected slots at tracks.

Hannig was then reportedly told by Rep. 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 much rather have a negotiated agreement, of course, but there is a strong sense among participants that Quinn wants to delay this entire issue until after the November elections, 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 revenues. 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 new 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 gaming expansion, including a flip-flop on slots at tracks. The flip-flop would pale in comparison to the problems he could fix with gaming revenues.

Gaming 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.  

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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