State Rep. Lou Lang has talked repeatedly of trying to get gambling expanded in Illinois for 20 years. If the veteran Skokie lawmaker wants to achieve that goal, he still has a lot of work ahead of him.
With Governor Pat Quinn as an adversary, Lang was thwarted in his recent attempt to get a new gambling bill passed in the veto session in the state capital. A scaled back version of a gaming legislation passed earlier this year (both bills were sponsored by Lang), but received only 58 votes of the 60 needed to get through the House last week. The bill was never called for a vote in the Senate leaving its future unclear.
The failure of this particular legislation marks another twist in a drama that has been ongoing since May when the General Assembly narrowly passed a bill that Lang believed would have brought in thousands of jobs to Illinois and as much as $1 billion in new revenue. However, gambling opponents were concerned about the amounts of new gaming opportunities as well as a lack of regulatory control.
Since the original gaming bill was passed in May, its foundation of support has slowly slipped away with Quinn labeling it “top heavy.” Interpreting that assessment as a veto threat, the legislation was never sent formally to the governor. In October, Quinn presented a counterproposal while formally promising a veto of the Lang bill. Among the major philosophical disagreements of the two that came up then and has yet to be resolved was the placement of slot machines at racetracks. Lang said that was a critical need to prop up the horse racing industry, but Quinn remains opposed.
Last week Lang sponsored a bill that included tighter regulatory mechanisms, fewer casinos and the elimination of slot machines at O’Hare Airport, but kept in the slot machines at race tracks. Quinn lobbied enough legislators to see his way to halt the legislation in its tracks.
“It's clear that this proposal needs more work, dialogue and analysis. We look forward to working with the General Assembly on this issue in the future,” Quinn said in a statement.
One particular member who was opposed to the bill in May and again said no this time around was State Rep. Dan Biss, who later this week announced his candidacy to replace Jeff Schoenberg in the State Senate.
“I still felt it was a massive expansion of gaming and it more than I could support,” Biss said. “There isn’t one specific thing but between everything, it was just more than I could support.”
What happens now is up for debate. Lang isn’t talking. Repeated efforts to contact him have been unsuccessful.
The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene later this month where another gambling proposal may be floated. It would be premature to say the idea is dead. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants a casino in Chicago and has been working with Lang to get something done. Next, with Illinois deeply immersed in red ink, Quinn may want to accept some gambling as a way to inject some cash. Lang also has an ally in Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.
But as of now there is almost certainty about this entire melodrama: Lang’s efforts of two decades to get more gaming in Illinois will take more time.