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For Quinn, casino expansion like a house of cards

lllinois Gov. Pay Quinn faces some severe fallout if he tries trim down massive expansiplan approved by state legislature spring

lllinois Gov. Pay Quinn faces some severe fallout if he tries to trim down a massive expansion plan approved by the state legislature in the spring of 2011, including the unhappiness of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a fellow Democrat. | AP file

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CHICAGO — Like a house of cards, the massive expansion proposed for Illinois’ gambling industry was built piece by piece, slot machine by slot machine, and vote by vote before the measure won its unprecedented approval in the legislature this spring.

That is the summer’s quandary for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor initially trash talked the sheer size of the expansion. But he faces some severe fallout if he tries to trim it down, including the unhappiness of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a fellow Democrat, who’s counting on a Chicago casino to help alleviate the city’s financial crunch.

Pulling out any of the bill’s many pieces, including any of five new casinos, risks the loss of backing from legislators whose support was carefully cultivated, one by one, possibly dooming the proposal if Quinn sends it back to Springfield shrunken or otherwise amended. That could cost the state $1.6 billion in licensing fees and other payments that proponents say the legislation would generate to help pay down the state’s backlog of bills.

If Quinn eliminates a proposed casino in Danville, the bill risks losing eastern Illinois lawmakers.

If he drops one of the proposed casinos in Rockford or Lake County, or one proposed for somewhere in Chicago’s south suburbs, legislators from those areas could balk.

If he erases proposed slot machines for Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, the measure could lose support among other Chicago lawmakers.

The bill’s precariousness was underscored when Senate President John Cullerton decided not to turn it over to Quinn yet for his decision. Fearing a veto, Cullerton put a legislative “hold” on the bill until lawmakers see whether they can negotiate some kind of compromise that won’t doom it.

In the meantime, Quinn is doing what he did before he decided to sign legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois: listening and talking to a wide variety of interest groups. That means hearing from people for and against, including the bill’s sponsors in a meeting last month that lasted more than two hours.

“I’m going to continue to analyze everything,” he said of the 400-page legislation. “With respect to the bill, it’s not on my desk. When it is, then we’ll act quickly.”

He said he expects negotiations to take a good part of the summer.

Democratic Sen. Terry Link, a chief sponsor of the bill, said it won’t be pretty if Emanuel doesn’t get his casino. “He would be upset if this bill is not signed,” said Link, whose own Lake County constituents would benefit from the proposed casino in Park City.

The gaming issue is the first potential public clash between Quinn and Emanuel, who vowed to work together to help the state’s economy. Emanuel has said he has had good conversations with Quinn about the bill. Both the city and state, Emanuel says, are losing money because city dwellers are crossing the Indiana border to gamble at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.

Besides giving Chicago its first casino, the bill also would expand the number of gaming positions at the state’s existing nine casinos and at a 10th scheduled to open later this month in Des Plaines.

Before lawmakers passed the sprawling bill, Quinn had said he was open to a Chicago casino but dismissive of the notion of four others and slots at the race tracks. He said he would tell the mayor of Danville “not to hold his breath” when it came to getting a casino.

“I will never support that. I think that’s way too much” Quinn said in May.

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