Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

April 1, 2013

Gov skeptical about gaming expansion

(Continued)

"Any enhancement that we enact to gaming revenues this year should be dedicated to education, which could include teachers' pensions," he told lawmakers in delivering a budget that includes $400 million less for education. "Of course, gaming expansion has to be done right."

Those who watch ethics and government praised the contributions ban in the latest bill. Gambling as an industry — including casinos and racing parks — contributed almost $10 million to Illinois public officials in roughly the last decade, according to the most recent analysis by government watchdog group Common Cause.

"It's an important protection," said James Browning, a director of the group.

Still, when asked last week, Quinn said he won't consider gambling until lawmakers solve the pension problem. Quinn has made pensions his top issue for more than a year, but attempts at reform have been stalled. Only recently have lawmakers seen a flurry of pension overhaul bills. Before they left for spring break in March, House members passed their third piece of legislation addressing the heart of the pension issue, cost-of-living increase.

"We still have a ways to go on that," he told reporters. "We're not going to be doing gambling expansion before we do our pension reform. Pension reform comes first, that's imperative."

Lawmakers have heard Quinn say that before, and their response?

"We actually can chew gum and walk," Lang said.

He and others also will also have to make a stronger pitch to the Illinois Gaming Board, which has many questions about the new proposal.

For one, the agency — which has been furiously regulating the advent of video gambling — is understaffed, says Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe. He hopes the proposal will equip the board for the expansion. And he doesn't see it as an immediate fix to the state's financial problems: the worst-in-nation-pension problem, backlogged bills and a slashed budget.

"It takes time," he said. "It's not going to be instant money."

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