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updated: 6/1/2012 6:11 PM

What's next for gambling expansion?

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  • Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, speaks to reporters after his gambling expansion plan passed the Senate Thursday night.

       Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, speaks to reporters after his gambling expansion plan passed the Senate Thursday night.
    Ryan Voyles | Staff Photographer

  • Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, reads a bill Wednesday in the House of representatives. Lang is a longtime supporter of gambling expansion.

       Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, reads a bill Wednesday in the House of representatives. Lang is a longtime supporter of gambling expansion.
    Ryan Voyles | Staff Photographer

 
By Ryan Voyles
rvoyles@dailyherald.com

SPRINGFIELD -- A massive gambling expansion plan is approved by Illinois lawmakers and sent to an uncertain fate with a noncommittal governor.

It happened last year.

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And it happened again Thursday night, squeaking through a little more than an hour before lawmakers' midnight budget deadline.

@$ID/[No paragraph style]:That leaves gambling expansion supporters to wonder if the plan, which would add 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park and five new Illinois casinos, including one in Lake County's Park City, will finally succeed.

Or, will opponents win once again, capitalizing on the complex gambling politics of Illinois to quash yet another ambitious plan?

But the gambling plan isn't approved in a vacuum, and Illinois' political landscape -- like the bill itself -- has changed from last year. Arlington Park Chairman Richard Duchossois said he still hopes to convince Gov. Pat Quinn to go along.

"We're still kicking this thing around. Things are still evolving, Duchossois said. "We have great hopes that we're going to be able to work out some legislation that will be satisfactory to the governor."

In 2011, Quinn expressed strong dislike of the gambling proposal and legislative leaders, certain of a veto, never sent him the bill.

Unlike last year, the newest proposal facing Quinn doesn't include slot machines at the Chicago airports. It adds some of ethics safeguards the governor wanted. Additionally, Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and sponsor of the bill, filed additional legislation Thursday that would add more ethics provisions, including a ban on campaign donations from some gambling interests.

"We answered every request that (Quinn) could have," Link said. "I don't know what more I can do for him."

Link's additional legislation could be key to luring Quinn's support.

"I have a great deal of hope we can do it. We probably just don't have the language yet," Duchossois said. "I think that will come through. I think that's what we're trying to put together."

Quinn, who has never been a big supporter of gambling expansion, didn't address how he felt about slots at Arlington Park when he talked to reporters Friday. But he emphasized ethics controls were his top priority in any gambling proposal.

"We'll take a look at it when it arrives," Quinn said of Link's plan.

Even if Quinn vetoes the plan, the state's financial situation could convince some former opponents to support gambling expansion -- maybe even enough to override a veto by Quinn. New casinos could provide the state with millions of dollars up front as the state sells gambling licenses to help pay down its large backlog of unpaid bills. Money from new casinos might not reach the state for a couple years, but the state's financial problems will probably linger for a couple years, too.

But opponents question just how much new revenue expansion would bring.

"Relying on these types of revenues is gambling itself," state Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, said on the Senate floor Thursday night. "It's a miracle when you win, and it's a reality when you lose."

Lame duck lawmakers could also play a role if an override vote is needed this fall. Already there are 12 suburban lawmakers among other lame ducks across the state. And that number will grow after the Nov. 6 election. Lawmakers relieved from the political pressures of facing re-election could be more willing to vote for a controversial plan.

While the House was only two votes away from the minimum number needed to override a veto, the Senate was six votes away from the minimum.

Link was not disheartened by the less-than-overwhelming margin, and said one question remains heading into the summer.

"It's a case of, does (Quinn) want to work with us, or does he want us to override him?" Link said.

Unlike last year, Quinn is expected to have the chance to sign or veto this plan.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, used a parliamentary move to never physically send the gambling bill legislation to Quinn's desk last year because the governor was certain to veto it.

He said this week he would send the legislation to Quinn and hoped an agreement could be met to have Quinn sign the bill this year.

"This is a big improvement over what he didn't like in the last one," Cullerton said.

Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and sponsor of the bill, is confident gambling expansion will become law this year -- with or without Quinn's approval.

Decades of history, though, might suggest otherwise.

"I've been around long enough to know that you can't speculate (about what's going to happen,)" Duchossois said.

• Daily Herald Politics and Projects Writer Kerry Lester contributed to this story.

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