Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, sponsored the gambling expansion bill that passed the General Assembly earlier this year.
On Thursday, Lang talked to Ward Room about his efforts to persuade Gov. Pat Quinn to sign it.
Q: Why should Governor Quinn sign this bill?
A: For me, gaming has always been about economic development. You could take out the word gaming and put in automobiles or put in Starbucks. We have a responsibility to take what is a legal industry and make it work better and put people to work. The horse racing industry is hemorrhaging jobs every day. They’re going to other states that treat the industry better. This bill will save the 40,000 agribusiness jobs in Illinois that involve themselves in horse racing. We already have gambling, so let’s not bury our heads in the sand and say, “Wow, too much gambling,” while our own citizens, by the busload go to Indiana and all the other surrounding states for the purpose of gambling, and while they’re there they buy gasoline, or they buy cigarettes.
Q: When you first started promoting this bill, was it just to save horse racing?
A: I’ve been working on a dual track. I’ve always wanted to bring a casino to the city of Chicago, because it's huge economic development and tourism for the city.
Q: You were never able to pass a pure racetrack slots bill. Did you need this extra inducement of a Chicago casino and a Rockford casino and the other casinos to get that through?
A: Most likely, but just as important is the fact that if I had passed a racetrack-only bill, it might have foreclosed ever having a casino in Chicago because the Downstate interests that so much want to help the agribusiness community would say, “Well, we’ve already done that.”
Q: What about Gov. Quinn’s concern that there’s not enough oversight? The bill takes some of these positions out of the oversight of the Illinois Gaming Board, and he’s worried that organized crime is going to find its way into these new gaming positions.
A: He’s wrong. While we do create a Chicago Casino Authority, it in no way supersedes the Illinois Gaming Board. Its job is to help the city determine what to recommend to the Gaming Board. Its job is to help determine what gaming operator the city must hire. The bill requires the city hire a gaming operator, because we don’t want aldermen and ward committeemen deciding who blackjack dealers would be, and we wanted people running the casino who know about gaming. We don’t want it run by some committee of the City Council, so we created a casino authority, and yes, the people are appointed by the mayor, but they can only make recommendations. They have no force of law. They cannot tell the Gaming Board what to approve and what not to approve. Let me tell you what I told the governor. I said, “If the optics of this are such that you need different language to satisfy that, I’ll give it you.”
Q: Do you see a compromise here? Is there another bill you could pass that could satisfy the governor and get through the legislature?
A: We don't totally know that yet. While I’ve had some meetings with the governor, he has never yet brought it to the point of negotiation. He’s never said to me, “I need this in the bill, I need that out of the bill”' I have told him some of my non-starters. A non-starter would be horse racing. It would be a non-starter to pluck any of the casinos out of the bill.
Q: Has he said flat-out that he’s not going to sign this bill?
A: No, he has not, and I’m still trying to convince him to sign this bill exactly the way it’s written, but I know at this point, we’re going to have to make some changes. The changes could be in the regulatory portion of the bill.
Q: It seems to have become a point of contention between the mayor and the governor. Is that going to make it harder for him to compromise?
A: No. I think the public debate between them may rage on. While the mayor is strongly working in favor of his constituents, the governor’s the governor, and he has not only the right but the power to assert his will as well. My job, as I see it, is to try to let cooler heads prevail and not let some of this war of words you’ve seen rule the day. I want to get to a point where we get the governor and mayor talking, or at least find someone they can both talk to if they can’t talk to each other.
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