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Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 03:30 pm

Quinn’s “Framework for Gambling” takes center stage

Most people looked at last week’s veto by Gov. Pat Quinn of the big gaming expansion bill and saw nothing except defeat for the issue. But the governor appeared to deliberately leave some doors open that you could drive a riverboat through.

For instance, nowhere in his veto message did Quinn mention slots at tracks. Quinn had been an adamant foe of allowing the horse racing industry to set up “mini casinos” at their facilities because it would result in an over-saturation of the market.

But Quinn then subtly began to back away from his opposition, explicitly expressed in writing in his “Framework for Gambling in Illinois” Power Point memo that he released last October in response to criticisms that he wasn’t making his positions known to negotiators. This past May, during a meeting with 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 it 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 campaign contributions be banned from casino operators (although he didn’t mention contributions from immediate family members of casino operators, who generously pumped up his campaign coffers during the 2010 cycle). He sharply criticized what he considers to be the lack of oversight of a new Chicago casino. The governor repeated his assertions from his October “framework” about how the bill doesn’t give the Gaming Board adequate time to “make critical licensing and regulatory decisions.” And he said, again, that money from the legislation needs to go to education.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fought hard against too much state oversight of his city’s proposed casino. But Quinn made clear last week in his veto message that Emanuel will have to give in on at least something. 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. Indiana bans contributions from casino operators, but the Republican Governors Association’s “super PAC” gave a million dollars to that state’s GOP gubernatorial candidate last month, and the RGA has received at least a million dollars from a single casino owner. Money will always find a way into the process. Quinn, for instance, received several large campaign contributions from immediate family member of the Des Plaines casino owner in 2010.

Even so, word is that Dick Duchossois is actually 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 also own casino interests are major Duchossois haters. But if Duchossois agrees to a contribution ban, even implicitly, then that particular issue might make some progress – although we could probably expect a vigorous court challenge from other casino owners on First Amendment grounds.

Back in May, insiders said Quinn wanted to wait until the veto session to deal with the casino issue more forcefully, and then use the money to heroically fix a gaping budget hole. The second part of that is coming to fruition with Quinn’s demand that the tax receipts go to education. The General Assembly cut the schools budget by $210 million this spring, and the gaming expansion bill is expected to bring in about $200 million a year. Quinn could, therefore, claim that he’d “saved” the education budget with gaming.

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 gaming expansion until pension reform is in place.   

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