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updated: 6/12/2011 8:02 AM

Senators work on convincing Quinn to sign gambling expansion

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  • Illinois Lawmakers recently sent legislation to Gov. Pat Quinn that would expand gambling by allowing slot machines at racetracks and airports, plus five new casinos, including one in Lake County.

    Illinois Lawmakers recently sent legislation to Gov. Pat Quinn that would expand gambling by allowing slot machines at racetracks and airports, plus five new casinos, including one in Lake County.
    Associated Press

  • Terry Link

    Terry Link

  • Lou Lang

    Lou Lang


Could Illinois' proposed gambling expansion be exactly what Gov. Pat Quinn says it is: too big?

"No!" said Sen. Terry Link, the Waukegan Democrat who sponsored the legislation narrowly approved by both the House and the Senate.

"I wouldn't have passed it if I thought it was too big. I think it's a bill that could be workable."

But lawmakers will either have to convince the governor of that or whittle the plan back to a point where Quinn can support it. Efforts now are in the works to look at possible changes to do just that, said Link, though he declined to say just what specific changes that might entail.

Yet that's a delicate balancing act that risks removing pieces of the gambling expansion puzzle and thus the support that comes with those pieces -- and therefore threatening the plan altogether.

The expansion that's headed to the governor for consideration would allow the state's racetracks, including Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, to install hundreds of slot machines, and add five new casinos in Lake County, Chicago, Danville, Rockford and southern Cook County, to the existing 10. It also would allow existing casinos to add more gambling positions and allow slot machines to be installed at O'Hare and Midway International airports.

"We're going to meet with the governor," Link said Saturday. "We've been meeting with his people, and we'll continue to meet and see what the governor's wishes are. We will see what we can do to see that this bill gets signed and goes into effect."

Link said he has been working on gambling expansion since he became a senator in 1997, and the time has come to act on it.

"What'd we like to do is get this bill signed so that we can start moving on these casinos as quick as possible," Link said. "They have to seek partners to develop these casinos. All this takes time. You don't want to waste any precious days."

And even with some speed, "then the construction period starts," he said. "And our lovely weather around here. It's June 11 and you would think that it's Oct. 11 if you go outside. Every day is important as far as getting foundations put in."

Link remained pragmatic when discussing possible changes to the current bill.

"The danger is that when you take something out of it, do you lose a vote from somebody who was in there?" he said. "But there's a possibility you could pick up someone else's vote. There are variables in this whole thing. I use the term all the time, it's like herding cats! This whole bill has been like that."

Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, the bill's House sponsor, worries that changing parts of the plan could lead to big trouble for the entire thing.

"If slots at tracks come off, you can't pass the bill. If the money for downstate agriculture comes off, you can't pass the bill. If you take out casinos for Danville and Rockford, it might damage the ability to pass the bill," Lang said.

So far, Quinn has not specified how he'd like to see the gambling expansion bill to be less expanded.

Link remains optimistic.

"I think the governor is seeing it a little bit different," Link said. "I think by the time we get done, everyone will walk out happy."

The new Lake County casino would add another to the West and Northwest suburbs, which currently has casinos in Elgin, Aurora, two in Joliet and one soon to open in Des Plaines.

Statewide, if the horse racing tracks and casinos were to add as many gambling positions as the proposal would allow, Illinois would go from allowing 12,000 gambling positions to allowing more than 39,000, the majority slot machines.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.