The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 7, 2013

Officials ‘regear’ for casino push

BY JENNIFER BAILEY
Commercial-News

SPRINGFIELD — As the lame duck session of the current General Assembly winds down this week, a gambling expansion bill that includes a casino license for Danville will have to start over again with a new legislative group.

The new 98th General Assembly will be sworn into office at noon Wednesday.

State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, isn’t surprised gambling expansion isn’t coming up for consideration in this lame duck session. Part of the issue is that House Speaker Michael Madigan had started discussions on crafting a new gambling expansion bill, but he again recused himself from negotiations due to a conflict of interest, Hays said.

Hays said Madigan and one of Madigan’s staff persons had become involved in the issue for about a month.

After again abruptly recusing himself from trying to come up with a compromise on the bill, that “probably prevented the discussion from going forward in the near future,” Hays said.

Local officials were looking forward to a meeting on the bill the day after Madigan again recused himself.

Hays, however, is optimistic that a bill again can move forward this spring during the next session, between now and Memorial Day.

He says discussion will continue on a gambling expansion bill.

“Danville is very much in that discussion,” Hays said, adding that a Danville casino is not feared to cannibalize on others already in Illinois. “A casino makes sense in Danville.”

“It’s a matter of when, not if it’s going to happen,” Hays said of a gambling expansion bill.

Hays said just because the bill didn’t come up this month, it doesn’t mean discussions are over.

“Discussion continues. Danville is very much alive in that discussion,” he reiterated.

He said he and others will now “regear” for the new session and bring a bill back this spring.

Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said “obviously I am very disappointed” about a compromise bill not being debated at all during the lame duck session.”

“It’s frustrating to me, this issue of gaming expansion or more importantly job and revenue growth,” Eisenhauer said.

“So, once again we start over; and we will certainly do that,” Eisenhauer said.

“And I do believe there will be some movement towards getting a compromise bill (before the next session ends by Memorial Day).”

Eisenhauer said he thinks it’s highly likely legislators will try to deal with a bill this session rather than waiting toward the end of a two-year term.

This means more months go by, however, without job and revenue growth for the city and state as a whole, he added.

“So while I’m very optimistic we will get a bill passed that does include gambling expansion in the city of Danville, it’s frustrating it continues to be an issue that keeps getting set on the back burners when all you hear about are the financial troubles that exist …,” Eisenhauer said.

“This is a tax of choice,” he added.

Eisenhauer adds he doesn’t think by not having Madigan involved in creating a compromise bill, it will impede moving a good bill forward.

According to an article from suburban Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, said “I pretty much think we’ll be waiting until the new session.”

The gambling expansion debate moved closer than ever to final approval last year. Lawmakers sent Gov. Pat Quinn a proposal that would have created five new casinos, the first time in more than a decade of debate that such a plan had reached a governor’s desk.

With an eye on trying to tackle some of the state’s other financial problems first, Quinn vetoed it. And lawmakers didn’t override him.

“A casino on every street corner will not solve the state’s $96 billion unfunded pension liability,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in the Daily Herald article. “That’s why the governor continues to insist that pension reform be enacted before any expansion of gaming.”

Also in the article, Link said he’ll work with new lawmakers after they’re sworn in to come up with legislation that Quinn would sign. Until there’s a compromise, any new gambling legislation might have failed again.

“We’ve voted on it a lot of times,” Link said. “But you’d like to vote on it one last time.”