Quinn, Emanuel ‘very close’ on deal for Chicago casino, they agree
BY FRAN SPIELMAN Sun-Times Media November 30, 2012 4:56PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) and Gov. Pat Quinn. | John H. White, Keith Hale~Sun-Times
Updated: January 3, 2013 6:28AM
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday they are “very close” to an agreement on a new casino bill.
Their comments caught state legislators and Joliet officials by surprise, leaving questions as to what the latest version of casino expansion might be.
The bill would include the ethics reforms the governor has demanded and earmark 100 percent of the money from a Chicago casino for school construction and modernization.
“I’m optimistic that, by the 9th of January, we can come up with a bill that meets all of our criteria,” Quinn said during an unrelated joint appearance with Emanuel. “The mayor and I are very close on the issue of strong regulation and ethics and making sure the money goes to schools and infrastructure. Isn’t that true?”
Quinn then yielded the podium to Emanuel, who agreed.
“I believe that we are very close. Remember, this has been 25 years in the making. But that said, on oversight and the type of issues like that, we are in alignment,” the mayor said.
“And I know from our meeting the governor agrees that 100 percent of the money should go into modernizing our schools. ... Unlike any other casino in the state, all of the resources will go into ... modernizing the Chicago Public School system.”
Their comments left legislators and officials in Joliet, who are concerned about the impact of increased casino competition, wondering what else might be in a bill backed by the governor and Chicago mayor.
“We don’t know what they’re talking about,” said House Republican Leader, R-Oswego, whose district includes part of Joliet.
Joliet officials have not objected to a Chicago casino in recent years. But they have opposed the latest versions of casino expansion, which would add a casino in the south suburbs and put slot machines at Chicago-area horse race tracks.
“If they do it in downtown Chicago, I can live with that,” said Joliet Councilman Michael Turk, who heads the finance committee. “It’s the casino between here and Hammond that concerns me.”
Joliet officials have estimated that a south suburban casino along with slot machines at race tracks would take away about $5 million in local casino taxes. That’s roughly a quarter of the tax dollars Joliet gets off of its casinos.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, whose district includes most of Joliet, said he did not know any details of what Quinn and Emanuel have planned. But he said the Legislature did not appear to have the votes to override the governor’s veto of the most recent casino expansion bill.
The governor has demanded a blanket ban on campaign contributions from casino interests, Illinois Gaming Board control over a Chicago casino and more resources and more time for the board to thoroughly vet operators and investors. He also wants strict procurement controls while ruling out slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports and at the Illinois State Fair.
Last year, Emanuel engaged in a monthslong verbal battle with Quinn aimed at pressuring the governor to sign a bill that would have paved the way for a land-based casino in Chicago and slot machines at the airports.
When Quinn denounced the bill for “serious shortcomings” in the area of casino oversight, Emanuel all but dismissed those integrity concerns as a smokescreen. Emanuel also ticked off the wish list of projects he intended to build with casino cash.
The pressure tactic didn’t work with Quinn, who accused the mayor of “putting the cart before the horse” and spending casino cash he doesn’t have. The governor subsequently vetoed the casino bill, put the decades-old issue back to Square 1.
Staff writer Bob Okon contributed to this story.