Gambling backers focus on overriding Quinn veto
SPRINGFIELD -- The impact of Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to veto a major gambling proposal spread far and wide across the suburbs Tuesday, from employees at Arlington Park to mayors who cheered or decried Quinn's move.
Quinn's veto blocks a plan that would have allowed up to 1,200 slot machines at Arlington Park, as well as new casinos in Lake County, Chicago and elsewhere.
State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who helped write the legislation, slammed Quinn for not negotiating with lawmakers despite their attempts to contact him and find compromise.
"It's obvious it's a one-way street," said Link, who has pushed for a Lake County casino for much of his political career.
And Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said she didn't get any kind of heads up as to what Quinn would decide about slot machines long sought by Arlington Park, but said she had heard hopeful speculation that he would rewrite the legislation instead of vetoing it completely.
"Gov. Quinn makes his own decisions. None of us wanted to predict what he was going to do," she said.
Not everyone was upset, though.
Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan lauded the move, as he and others have worried that slot machines at Arlington Park and new casinos could steal profits from the Rivers Casino in his town -- much like the Rivers Casino's opening led to revenue drops at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin and Hollywood Casino in Aurora.
"With Des Plaines being home to Rivers Casino, I, along with many others, have been totally committed to preserving the local and regional jobs created by the casino's development," Moylan said in a statement.
Quinn said his decision came down to an overall lack of ethics provisions in the legislation.
"It is critically important that any expansion of gaming in Illinois be undertaken thoughtfully and carefully," Quinn wrote in his veto message. "We have one opportunity to get it right."
Quinn's decision is unlikely to be the final word on the matter, though. Lawmakers are set to meet again in late November to weigh all of Quinn's vetoes and decide whether to override him. Whether those who support more gambling can find enough votes to override the governor will be one of the biggest questions of the fall because it's far from a guarantee.
"We're uncertain what the future looks like," said Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin. "But we've been working on this project for quite a while."
At least some horse racing officials are optimistic. In the past, Quinn has opposed slot machines at racetracks and indicated he's not willing to compromise on it. That didn't come up in his veto message Tuesday, and Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President Michael Campbell doesn't think the machines are off the table.
"The horsemen are grateful to the governor that he did not mention slots at tracks as something he finds objectionable in the gaming bill and that he has signaled he is comfortable with additional gaming at the tracks to help our industry," Campbell said in a statement. "Based on private conversations that we have had with him, we believe that is the case."
Quinn's veto message did mention the state's huge debt in its retirement plans, an issue the governor has made his focus in recent months. Earlier this year, he criticized lawmakers for not having the same focus, urging them not to get distracted by "shiny objects" like legislation to add casinos.
Gambling has come to the forefront of local officials' minds in recent weeks as suburban communities and towns across the state weigh whether to allow video gambling machines at bars -- an expansion of gambling Quinn approved in his first term.
But Arlington Park will remain without slot machines for now. Chris Block, a horse trainer who has run horses at Arlington Park for more than 20 years, says the impact of declining betting and prizes at the local track hurts his business as well as others across the state.
"The full effect of this is not only at the racetrack, but outside the racetrack to the people who breed the horses," he said.
Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed.