Online Gambling Must Wait In Line Behind Pension Reform, Illinois Governor Says
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn threw some cold water on those hoping to see online gambling regulation come to the state with his announcement that pension reform is an immutable precursor to any sort of gambling expansion.
Pension reform a must-do, says Quinn
Quinn has previously indicated that he viewed pension reform as a more pressing priority than casino expansion, but this is most explicit public statement to date indicating that pension reform must actually be accomplished before he’ll be willing to sign any bill to bring more gambling to Illinois.
How explicit? Quinn told Illinois lawmakers that he “will never, ever sign a gaming expansion absent comprehensive pension reform,” according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
Pension reform is daunting task
Illinois is facing a pension deficit of nearly $100 billion. The issue has been something of a political football throughout the last few administrations, with each session of state government passing the buck to the next.
Quinn has apparently decided that the problem can no longer be kicked down the road, and sees casino expansion – which is a critical issue for several powerful members of the state House and Senate – as the leverage he needs to force legislators to act.
Despite the apparent impossibility of a solution, Quinn sounded an optimistic note to reported, indicating that he felt a deal on pension reform was possible ahead of the impending end of the current legislative session at the end of May.
Online gambling now separate from casino expansion
At one point, the measure to bring regulated online poker and gambling to Illinois was contained within the larger attempt to expand the number of brick-and-mortar casinos in Illinois. But the online aspect was eventually stripped during complex negotiations over the fate of the larger casino bill.
As a result, the issue of online gambling will now be considered separately from the issue of land-based casino expansion. This simplifies things a bit, but may make passing an online gambling bill more difficult due to the lack of influential political support that would have naturally accompanied a package land-based and online bill.
Illinois would be regional leader in online gambling
Illinois is not alone in the region when it comes to live casinos. Bordering states Indiana and Wisconsin both offer significant amounts of live gaming well within reach of Illinois residents (especially in the greater Chicago metropolitan area).
But Illinois would be the de facto leader were the state to introduce online gambling. No neighboring state currently offers any type of gambling online. The closest competitor is Michigan, which is currently pursuing a plan to start online lottery sales.
Bill would bring all types of online games to Illinois
Industry watchers are still waiting for Illinois lawmakers to introduce an online gambling measure. A draft of proposed legislation was recently floated by the office of State Senate President John Cullerton.
The draft contained language by and large echoing the online gambling proposal that was at one point contained in the casino expansion bill, and allows for poker along with most imaginable casino games.
It is unclear whether this bill will get to a vote before the current session concludes. If it does not, the next opportunity will be in the fall.