Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garbage? Or is it just politics at work?

“You can’t make perfume out of a pile of garbage” – Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe.


That line, spoken by the head of the state agency that oversees casinos, is bound to become an immortal quotable one. Aaron Jaffe spouted his words of wisdom earlier this week in reaction to the idea of expanding the number of casinos in this state.
JAFFE: Speaking the truth on casinos?

He doesn’t like the idea.

JAFFE ISN’T SPOUTING any kind of moral rhetoric about the evils of gambling. He hates the idea that his board would have to go from overseeing 10 casinos to 15 without any assurance their budget would increase. He also hates the idea of significant gambling in the form of slot machines at racetracks and at O’Hare International Airport without any oversight by his board.

But the part of his argument that most caught my attention was his objection to the idea that the General Assembly, in creating five more casinos, picked specific sites.

The other 10 casino sites were chosen by the Gaming Board, with communities forced to compete against each other to show why they were the most logical site. “No one should get a license without being fully vetted,” Jaffe said, during his statement.

Under the measure approved by the General Assembly that eventually will be considered by Gov. Pat Quinn, the only such fight that will take place this time around is when the Gaming Board decides where a “south suburban” casino is located.

CONSIDERING THAT THE south suburbs is an area that the Gaming Board has consistently rejected in the past, I won’t be surprised if this fight becomes one where the least-weak proposal wins by default.

What hurts that particular area is the fact that there is so much gambling already in the area – both with the Joliet-area casinos and all those gambling “boats” in places like East Chicago, Hammond, Gary and Michigan City.

My father and step-mother live in the Cook County south suburbs AND also enjoy the casino experience (I already accept the fact that I’m NOT getting anything resembling an inheritance). They have about a half-dozen casinos within a half-hour drive of their home to choose from.

The only thing that a “south suburban” casino called for in the bill would do for them is quite possibly put a seventh casino – albeit one located 10 to 15 minutes from their home.

WHICH MEANS THAT a casino in that area isn’t essential. It’s about individual communities trying to “one-up” each other in local prominence. It’s about local politics.

The same goes for the casino bill as a whole. The fact is that this issue is about political concerns. Which means that Jaffe’s “pile of garbage” assessment may well be accurate.

The idea of putting casinos in Rockford and Danville, close to the Illinois/Wisconsin and Illinois/Indiana borders respectively, out of hopes that they will draw customers from the surrounding states to Illinois was more important than whether casinos would actually work there.

The fact that north suburban Park City was picked for a casino was because of the fact that state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, wants gambling and its tax revenues in his legislative district. He openly has said there is no way he would advance a casino expansion plan if his district didn’t get something.

AND ALL OF these casinos were included because they were seen as politically necessary to draw votes for what was the real purpose of an expansion bill – to locate a large-scale casino that will make all the existing casinos look puny and petty by comparison within the Chicago city limits.

Except that many legislators don’t want to be seen giving something to Chicago that is meant to give them an edge over the rest of the state. So they need the extras so they can say they brought something home.

Heck, to people who live in Springfield, this bill is about putting slot machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds horseracing track.

Which is what constrains Quinn, who would love to use his amendatory veto powers to strip out everything except for the Chicago casino proper.

IF HE REALLY did that, it would be a sure thing that the General Assembly would use its veto session come October and November to override him and push the expanded plan into law.
A show as trashy as the casino bill?

Taking out anything is likely to cause the state Legislature to revolt and override – just to show Quinn who the boss really is (and no, it isn’t Tony Danza).

Which is why even though Quinn has offered up rhetoric hinting he’s prepared to alter the casino expansion measure in some form, I still believe he’s ultimately going to get stuck signing into law the entire measure.

And when he does, perhaps Jaffe can be on hand to give us his official pronouncement. “Garbage!” It will be the most-honest thing said that day.


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