CHICAGO (STMW) – In a surprise move, Senate President John Cullerton Wednesday took steps to gut the controversial 2009 state law that authorized video gambling machines in bars and restaurants throughout the state, the Sun-Times is reporting.
The measure, if passed by both chambers of the Legislature and enacted by Gov. Quinn, would represent a 180-degree shift from when video gambling was regarded as a $534 million cash cow to support the governor’s $31 billion capital program.
Since video gambling was authorized, it has hit hurdle after hurdle.
Chicago refused to permit it in the city, and 80 local governments opted out entirely, raising questions about the program’s financial viability.
Then, in late January, more doubts were cast on the future of video gambling in Illinois when a state appeals court ruled the 2009 law that authorized it and raised other taxes and fees to pay for the construction program was unconstitutional.
“It’s obviously a very controversial plan. It has yet to generate a single dollar for the capital program. Right now, the Senate president is gauging whether there is sufficient support to repeal it,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
On Wednesday, Cullerton attached the repeal language to a bill he is sponsoring, but the package has not had a hearing.
A Senate committee, however, was poised Wednesday afternoon to advance a revised revenue package that included all of the original money-raisers that were part of the court-invalidated, construction program – except for video gambling.
Its potential repeal comes after one of the main movers and shakers behind the legalization of video gambling – Joseph Berrios – won the Cook County assessor’s race last November and ended his Springfield lobbying practice.
Cullerton has stressed in the past that he has not had close ties to Berrios, though the assessor is a political ally of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who backed him in his assessor’s campaign. House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) was an early proponent in 2009 of video gambling.
The industry Berrios used to represent, the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, expressed dismay Wednesday at Cullerton’s legislative maneuver.
“We’re certainly surprised to see this. We had no indication this was coming,” said Zack Stamp, another of the association’s Springfield lobbyists. “People have been out there working on the assumption this would be the law. They’ve invested millions of dollars, hiring people. People have been anticipating this coming online, and this will cause a great deal of problems if it’s repealed.”
In fact, the Illinois Gaming Board has added about 50 investigators in preparation for the roll-out of such gaming and begun background checks on 116 license applicants after estimating the first video gambling machines would be functioning by late summer or early fall, spokesman Gene O’Shea told the Sun-Times.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)