Illinois governor vetoes gambling-expansion bill

CHICAGO Tue Aug 28, 2012 2:44pm EDT

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn delivers his State of the State address to the joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chambers of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois February 1, 2012. REUTERS/Sarah Conard

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn delivers his State of the State address to the joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chambers of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois February 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Sarah Conard

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed a bill that would have expanded gambling and increased the number of casinos in the state, saying the measure fell short on ethical standards and oversight.

"Illinois should never settle for a gaming bill that includes loopholes for mobsters," the Democratic governor said on Tuesday in his veto message to the legislature.

Quinn also blasted the bill for not banning contributions from gaming licensees and casino managers to political campaigns, noting that several other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Iowa and Indiana, have such restrictions.

The bill would have increased the number of casinos in Illinois from 10 to 15, including a first one in Chicago, and would have allowed slot machines at race tracks.

As for a Chicago casino, Quinn said the legislation did not subject the facility to the same level of oversight by the Illinois Gaming Board as other casinos in the state.

"Permitting the Chicago casino to operate without the appropriate oversight of the gaming board is not good for Illinois," Quinn said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his city was losing $20 million a month to nearby casinos in Indiana.

"I spoke with the governor this morning and we agreed it cannot take another 20 years of discussion to draft and pass a bill that will be signed into law," Emanuel said in a statement. "I will continue to work relentlessly with all parties to pass a bill that will allow a Chicago casino to be built and implemented responsibly."

State Representative Lou Lang, a Democrat and the bill's sponsor, called the veto "unfortunate and disappointing but predictable." The legislature passed a similar measure last year that fizzled under a Quinn veto threat.

Lang said there was a good chance the veto could be overridden in the Democrat-controlled legislature during its fall session that begins in November.

"I think I already have the votes in the House," he said, adding that he was working on getting the necessary votes in the Senate.

The labor union and horse racing-backed Illinois Revenue and Jobs Alliance, which was pushing for the bill, said the veto will cost the cash-strapped state 20,000 new jobs, more than $1 billion in one-time licensing fees, and more than $200 million in annual revenue.

Casinos in Illinois operated by Argosy, Harrah's, Hollywood Casino and others generated $489 million in state and local tax revenue last year, according to the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

Quinn said the gambling-expansion measure did not provide adequate support for education, which was cut by $210 million in the current budget. He also warned that gambling cannot fix the state's fiscal problems.

"Even a casino on every street corner cannot repair the state's $83 billion unfunded pension liability," he said, urging lawmakers to focus on pension reform.

Earlier this month, a one-day special session of the legislature called by Quinn was adjourned without the final passage of any pension reform measures.

(Reporting By Karen Pierog; Editing by Tim Dobbyn, John Wallace and Carol Bishopric)

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