Updated: March 23, 2013 6:15AM
WAUKEGAN — It remains to be seen what if anything will emerge on gambling expansion from the 98th General Assembly — something old, new or otherwise — but Mayor Robert Sabonjian says his interest was piqued this week when he was told last year’s approach that included a license for Park City was being scrapped.
Citing a Tuesday conversation with a representative of McGuireWoods Consulting, the city’s Springfield lobbyist, Sabonjian said he was told that “there is no gaming bill at this point — they have not been able to override the governor’s veto, they’re not going to be able to, so the old gaming bill is dead. ... What is happening is that the leadership at the House and Senate level (is) taking over the gaming issue and are going to create bill that they will then apparently be able to get passed.”
Sabonjian added that follow-up information from McGuireWoods stated that Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, could introduce a new proposal in the first week of March, but it is not known if a Lake County license would be included, or what community would be named.
Cullerton spokesman Ron Holmes said there is “no news to report on gaming” at this point in the process, but he added that something will emerge this spring, but “we haven’t laid out a timeline about when it would happen.”
One development is that the Senate no longer has a standing Gaming Committee, which had been chaired in recent years by state Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan. Instead, a subcommittee on gaming has been created under the Senate’s Executive Committee. Link is a member of the Executive Committee, but no members had been assigned to the new subcommittee as of Wednesday.
Holmes said a number of committees had been consolidated for logistical reasons, listing licensed activities and pensions as one example. He added that “we definitely made some tweaks, but that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that gaming is off the table.”
Reached for comment, Link said most gaming issues were handled in the Executive Committee to begin with, and he expects to be involved in whatever takes shape in the Senate. He also said not to read too much into Sabonjian’s information.
“Let’s put it this way,” Link said. “The mayor and his consulting firm are not privy to what we’re doing.”
Park City has been the prospective gaming site for Lake County in casino-expansion packages mulled in Springfield since 2009, and it was named in bills passed by the Legislature in both 2011 and 2012, along with Chicago, Rockford, Danville and south Cook County. Last August, Quinn vetoed the 2012 version, and no attempt was made to override the measure in the fall. The 2011 bill was released to his desk in January, but he has yet to act on it.
Sabonjian ran for office in 2009 as an opponent of gaming in Waukegan, but he told aldermen in late 2011 that he would sign a liquor license if the city is awarded a casino, citing support from a majority of the City Council. He admitted the signals he’s received from Springfield this week have been muddled.
“We don’t know what (this) means to Waukegan. It could mean they just say ‘Lake County’ and then we reapply as a city and go from there,” said Sabonjian, adding that the situation appeared to be so fluid that “I feel like I’m just going to sit back and see what happens.”