Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday vetoed legislation permitting new casinos in Chicago and the south suburbs that would have directly competed with Northwest Indiana's five lakefront casinos.
The Democratic governor said in his veto message that Senate Bill 1849 did not include adequate ethics protections, in particular a ban on campaign donations from casino owners and managers.
"We must prevent campaign contributions by gaming operators from infecting our political process," Quinn said. He noted that Indiana prohibits campaign contributions from gaming-affiliated people.
Quinn said the legislation also wrongly reduced Illinois Gaming Board authority over the Chicago casino and exempted that facility from state purchasing rules.
"Such a complete lack of oversight will leave the Chicago casino's numerous procurements vulnerable to organized crime, unsavory influence and potentially overpriced vendors," Quinn said. "Accordingly, I must return this bill without my approval."
Art Bilek, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission, cheered Quinn's veto, saying the governor "derailed the always ingenious and persistent members of the Crime Syndicate in their efforts to seek out schemes to enrich themselves by getting into the state's legal gambling business."
But Jim Garrett, president of the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the governor's decision is a missed opportunity.
"The addition of gaming would have brought several hundred, if not thousands, of new jobs in the construction and operation of the casino complex," Garrett said. "The associated revenue boost for our local communities would have created a win-win scenario for the Chicago Southland."
The governor's veto sends the legislation back to the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly, where an override vote is possible but unlikely to succeed. The legislation passed by a single vote in the Senate and was two votes shy in the House of reaching the three-fifths majority required to enact a law despite a veto.
Sponsors of the gaming plan, including state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, hope lawmakers may be more inclined to vote for the measure following the Nov. 6 elections when it's generally easier for lawmakers to support controversial measures.
The Illinois legislature is scheduled to meet Nov. 27 to 29 and Dec. 4 to 6.
The vetoed legislation would have allowed a Hammond Horseshoe-sized casino in Chicago, likely downtown, and a casino about the size of East Chicago's Ameristar in a to-be-determined location in the south suburbs. New casinos also were slated for Rockford, Waukegan and Danville, along with slots at Illinois horse tracks.
The Chicago and south suburban casinos were expected to draw revenue and attendance from Northwest Indiana casinos, reducing wagering tax money that's distributed to local and state government in Indiana. A 2009 study found approximately 70 percent of region casino visitors are from Illinois.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she hopes the continuing potential for increased competition from Illinois finally will prompt the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly to approve a long-sought land-based casino adjacent to the Borman Expressway.
With more than 300,000 vehicles passing the proposed land-based site every day, a new Gary casino also will bring hotels, retailers and jobs to the Steel City, Freeman-Wilson said.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. believes it's only a matter of time before Illinois gets its act together and expands gaming across the state line.
He said Hammond is planning for that day by reducing its expectations of future casino revenue and looking toward selling water to Illinois cities to boost the bottom line.
"The pie is shrinking for casinos, which means it's shrinking for government, which means there's no reason whatsoever for governments to rely on that anymore," McDermott said.