SPRINGFIELD -- The longtime backer of a push to expand gambling in Illinois has dropped his name from a pending bill over "perceived conflict of interest" with a law firm where he's counsel.
For years state Rep. Lou Lang sponsored gambling legislation proposing more casinos in areas including Rockford, citing revenue for the state and more jobs. The most recent plan, which calls for five new casinos including in Rockford and Chicago, has cleared the Senate and awaits a House vote.
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But in a letter sent to House Speaker Michael Madigan late Monday, Lang said he had to withdraw sponsorship and may recuse himself from voting because of work his firm did. Lang is counsel for Odelson and Sterk, an Evergreen Park firm that took on worker compensation issues for the city of Rockford last summer.
"The law firm's work for the client has no relation whatsoever to any gaming legislation," Lang said in the letter dated Monday. "Additionally, I do no legal work for this client, and I receive no compensation from their relationship with the firm. My actions as an attorney and/or a member of the General Assembly have been, at every moment, completely appropriate and totally respectful of all applicable laws and ethical rules. There have been no violations of any kind."
Lang, a Skokie Democrat first elected in 1988, declined to comment Tuesday beyond the letter.
Rockford officials said Lang wasn't connected to the work and there was no link between the casino proposed for the city and the work Odelsen and Sterk picked up. Rockford City Legal Director Patrick Hayes said eight firms bid to do the work and Odelson and Sterk was the most qualified.
"The city never looked at it that Lou's position could assist us," Hayes said.
Democratic Rep. Robert Rita is now sponsor of the gambling bill, which also proposes casinos in Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County, and slot machines at both of Chicago's airports.
This year's plan is seen as the best chance yet to expand gambling in Illinois.
While Gov. Pat Quinn has twice rejected casino proposals over ethical concerns, he's signaled publicly that he's open to the idea if it benefits schools and outlines enough oversight. He called for a ban on political contributions, which lawmakers added. The Chicago Democrat has also said he wants to see a pension overhaul first.
State Sen. Terry Link, a bill sponsor in the Senate, said Lang's withdrawal won't affect the outcome of the bill.
"There's no doubt the institutional knowledge that Rep. Lang has on this issue, he's going to be sorely missed" Link said. "But Rep. Rita is going to be able to get us to the finish line."