Illinois gambling bill still up in the air

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Two months after lawmakers approved a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn has revealed only a few private hints of what his objections may be to the bill as he conducts revolving meetings with supporters and opponents.

CHICAGO (AP) — Two months after lawmakers approved a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn has revealed only a few private hints of what his objections may be to the bill as he conducts revolving meetings with supporters and opponents.

But Quinn has vowed not to let the matter drag on too long. He said this week that he has been meeting with lawmakers and expects to deal with the bill well before the Legislature goes back to work in late October during the fall veto session.

It’s during that session that lawmakers could accept any changes Quinn might make to the bill or try to override a veto, a potentially daunting proposition because the measure only narrowly passed before lawmakers left the Illinois Capitol in May.

Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar is among those who have met with Quinn to advocate for the measure, and he came away feeling that the Democratic governor was still undecided.

"He might have something in his mind but my sense was he hasn’t finalized what he’s going to do," said Edgar, a racehorse owner who met Quinn along with other horsemen to argue the bill would help the racing industry.

The legislation would allow for five new casinos, expanded gambling at 10 existing casinos and the addition of slot machines at race tracks. Among the new gaming facilities would be Chicago’s first casino, an element strongly supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Supporters of the measure are outpacing opponents in calls and emails to the governor’s office. A Quinn spokeswoman said 11,064 people have expressed support, while 2,961 are opposed.

Legislative leaders continue to use a legislative maneuver to keep the bill off Quinn’s desk until they get a better gauge of what he wants. That keeps Quinn from using his veto to block the bill or rewrite it. He has turned up his nose before at any significant expansion.

Quinn acknowledged he hasn’t provided lawmakers with a list of what he likes and dislikes in the bill. But previously, he has expressed reservations about regulatory issues in the bill and seemed to dismiss the idea of growing the number of casinos in the state. He has said he was open to the idea of a Chicago casino if it was done right.

One person Quinn met with was Illinois Gaming Board chairman Aaron Jaffe, who has encouraged Quinn to veto the bill because he says it’s full of regulatory loopholes.

"We don’t want any bad characters getting involved in gaming," Quinn said Thursday.

One of the bill’s chief sponsors, Democratic Sen. Terry Link, said he knows what some of Quinn’s concerns are. "And no, I’m not going to tell you," Link said.

Link said giving Quinn these months to study the bill has been a good thing.

"If we would have handed him the bill, he would have never had this opportunity," he said.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who initiated the legislative maneuver to keep the bill from Quinn’s desk, also has been meeting with Quinn. Cullerton’s spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon, said lawmakers can deal with any Quinn objections if he makes them clear.

"In any negotiation you need to be able to hear from the opposing party about what their demands are, to have a sense of what their criticisms are in order to formulate a fix," she said.

Quinn says he has been using the time to study and analyze the 400-page piece of legislation. That has meant talking to mayors whose cities would get casinos, including Danville and Rockford, and opponents who want Quinn to arrest the growth of gambling in Illinois.

Quinn’s decision-making is similar to the process he went through before he signed a bill earlier this year banning the death penalty in Illinois even though he said he supported capital punishment. Quinn held numerous meetings with prosecutors, victims’ families and death penalty opponents before making up his mind just like he’s doing with the gambling expansion bill.

"Everybody, I think, will at the end of the day say that they had a chance to speak and get their points across," Quinn said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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