“We’re not going to have loopholes for mobsters in Illinois. … My two predecessors, who are in jail, did not focus on ethics.”
– Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Aug. 28, 2012, on his veto of a bill that included slipshod anti-crime oversight for a Chicago casino
Gov. Bruce Rauner, welcome to a Springfield hustle that will help you appreciate Pat Quinn and his defense of integrity in legalized gambling. As long-time supporters of modestly expanding that industry, we'll charge you only the price of a Tribune for a sensible plan that will deliver fresh revenues – without polluting the stream of gaming taxes that now flows to state and local treasuries.
Yes, we know the casino industry has been slumping statewide, and that the Chicagoland market already may be saturated. We also know a Chicago casino will cannibalize business from suburban rivals. But we remain open to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for a casino that could enhance (and exploit) city convention and tourism traffic, and the notion of the city, the state or both owning it. We also, though, know that a Chicago casino could be only one item in the final legislation that lobbyists and lawmakers engineer; in 2013 they concocted a 555-page bill with all sorts of tomfoolery.
The net effect is that, for lack of a smaller, reasonable expansion, Illinois still has 10 casinos – and not one penny of revenue from an 11th in Chicago.
So to make this a win, Governor, you have to look beyond the gambling industry to its little cousin, the gambling-bill industry. You say you want to distance yourself and your constituents from Springfield’s living history of cronyism, sweetheart deals and influence peddling? First negotiate how much casino expansion you'll accept – then invite attorneys from the Illinois Gaming Board to draft the actual bill. Here’s why:–
The gambling-bill industry includes buzzing swarms of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants. It also includes legislators who push these bills and, for their effort, bank campaign cash. The legislators perennially try to foist more expansion with less oversight than grim Illinois experience says is necessary.
Four times in its quarter-century’s existence, the Gaming Board has discovered and eradicated shades of wrongdoing and inappropriate associations. Yet legislators in recent years have laced gambling bills with attempts to fire the entire Gaming Board. They tried to forbid suspension or revocation of a Chicago casino license if, say, organized crime got a foothold. They even tried to give Chicago’s City Hall a role in regulating all hiring, contracting and other non-gambling operations at a casino that would be, um, owned by Chicago’s City Hall.
And in their most egregious stunt, the gambling-bill industry tried to outlaw the use of Illinois State Police officers, who help the Gaming Board regulate existing casinos, in regulating a Chicago casino.
Ask yourself: Why would anyone outlaw State Police oversight?
Quinn vetoed two of these oafish bills. Quinn distrusted sponsors who bought votes for the bills by earmarking big shares of potential revenue for fellow lawmakers’ pet causes and projects.
This explains, Governor, why we urge you to discover your inner Quinn and tell the gambling-bill industry: The sleaze the last guy wouldn’t tolerate? Me neither.
Quinn also bequeathed to you his excellent “Framework for Gaming in Illinois,” at chicagotribune.com/gambling. Our best advice that Quinn didn’t take was to ask Gaming Board attorneys to write an ethical bill after he decided how much expansion he would accept.
The rollout of video gambling partly explains the difficult times at Illinois casinos. The more than 19,000 video terminals are the equivalent of 16 new casinos of 1,200 gambling positions each, the maximum now allowed.
In the past, Governor, the gambling-bill industry has floated multiple bills and disclosed its final opus near the end of the spring legislative session. We call this game “Casino Surprise!” It comes with a double-pinkie-swear from the sponsors that they'll resolve any concerns in the governor’s office in a subsequent trailer bill. We’re convinced Quinn wanted to sign a Chicago casino bill. But he wouldn’t fall for the swear. Or for the sloppy oversight, fat earmarks and frothy expansion that came with it.
Get ahead of this, Governor. Cut a deal, then have your lawyers draft a clean bill.
– Chicago Tribune