Gambling interests send lawmakers campaign cash
SPRINGFIELD -- With state lawmakers in coming months possibly poised to consider a tough vote over whether to expand gambling in Illinois, casino and horse racing interests in the suburbs are giving thousands of dollars to candidates on both sides of the issue.
A review of campaign finance records shows Arlington Park has given $82,047 to state-level candidates since lawmakers finished their session in June. Track officials want lawmakers to override a veto from Gov. Pat Quinn that would allow the racetrack to have up to 1,200 slot machines.
On the other side, casino company Penn National Gaming has donated $91,500 over the same time period. The company owns the Hollywood Casino in Aurora and one of the two casinos in Joliet.
Penn National would rather the veto stick, ending for now the prospect of five new, competing casinos that also are included in the gambling bill.
Arlington Park spokesman Thom Serafin said the track has given to candidates for decades. But, he said, people shouldn't assume a quid pro quo, as the track has also wanted slot machines for decades.
Plus, Serafin said, Arlington Park supports Gov. Pat Quinn's ethics proposals that include barring gambling interests from donating to candidates.
"These are all thing we've always supported," Serafin said.
Rivers Casino developer Neil Bluhm and his family, developers of the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, have chipped in thousands of dollars to both Republicans and Democrats. On Friday, for example, the Bluhm family sent $15,000 to campaign committees controlled by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, campaign records show. Neil Bluhm has given $36,000 to lawmakers since Aug. 1.
Representatives Penn National Gaming and Bluhm didn't respond to requests for comments.
Gambling interests always give to state officials around election time. State lawmakers have argued for decades about how many gambling options Illinoisans should have and where those options should be. And state regulators have a tight grip on how the industry does business.
But the gambling expansion stakes have perhaps never been higher. After the elections, lawmakers are scheduled to meet before the new lawmakers takes office in January.
Quinn has vetoed their expansion plans, but lawmakers could override him. It would be the first time in decades of debating gambling expansion that lawmakers could make new casinos and slots at the horse tracks final with one vote. Other actions over the years were to try to send legislation to the governor, which they did in May.
Whether lawmakers override Quinn is initially up to state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. He said he hasn't decided how to proceed, instead focusing on the upcoming election.
Link said he wouldn't need to push for an override if lawmakers and Quinn instead could come to an agreement on gambling in the coming months.
"Either way we can do it is fine with me," Link said.
To override the veto, Link will have to find some more votes. The Illinois Senate, for example, would have to find at least six more supporters among 59 senators in order to override Quinn. The House needs two of 118 members to change their minds.