The Illinois Senate has responded to Gov. Pat Quinn's rejection of a massive gambling expansion bill with, sadly, another massive gambling expansion bill.
Supporters say this year's iteration of what is becoming an annual spring rite in the Capitol should stay the governor's veto pen because it offers greater restrictions and more specific controls to prevent corruption. That the 2012 legislation was weak on this point there is no question. Whether the revisions added this time solve the problem is open to serious debate. But it's important to emphasize that regulation was just one flaw in last year's bill. Two at least equally important shortcomings still remain -- the expansion is far too big, and it puts at risk the limited value existing casinos have produced for the state and the communities in which they operate.
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The legislation the Senate easily approved May 2 does provide for slots at Arlington International Racecourse, a concession we've reluctantly come to accept because of its importance to the survival of a cherished pastime and a valued corporate citizen in Arlington Heights. But after that, the bill's provisions gush with immoderate illusions. A 4,000-seat allotment to a Chicago casino, with some of the positions available for O'Hare International and Midway airports. A Lake County facility with 1,200 positions. Casinos in Rockford, Danville, the South suburbs.
All told, they would produce, says sponsor Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, about $268 million a year for the state. Supposedly, all of that money would be earmarked for education. But, a solid $50 million comes off the top to support increased Gaming Board oversight, and even assuming the rest of the take would actually be new money and not just diversions from business at existing casinos, the definition of what qualifies as "education" is so broad as to raise serious questions about just how much new money the expansion would provide to public schools.
In his budget message earlier this year, Quinn unfortunately signaled his openness to gambling expansion if strict ethics standards were put in place and if all the money went to education. We trust that the governor, assuming the House doesn't stymie the bill before it gets to him, will recognize that this new legislation meets neither of those conditions, while still carrying all the unwelcome baggage attending all proposals that purport to use gambling revenues, instead of sound fiscal policy and a healthy business climate, to reverse the state's dismal financial fortunes.
No, like most gambling bills before it, the 2013 model is a massive collection of false hopes, knotted into the hideously inelegant snarl of excessive promises necessary to attract votes to a concept whose problems easily outweigh its benefits and whose appeal is weak both to the voting public and to the economic marketplace. This legislation will not improve the quality of life in Illinois; it will worsen it. May it wither along with all its many forebears.