SPRINGFIELD — A Wednesday hearing aimed at coming up with a new casino expansion bill erupted into a shoutfest between a key senator and the chairman of the state’s gambling oversight board.
After years of lobbing attacks at each other through the media, Sen. Terry Link and Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe found themselves in a tense face-to-face showdown at the Capitol.
“We’ve waited a long time for this meeting to take place,” Link told Jaffe, a former judge and state legislator. “I’ve heard myself being criticized on TV, radio, everywhere else by you, judge.”
Jaffe did not back down, at times pointing a finger directly at Link and firing back: “I would say that you have attacked me more times than I have attacked you. You have been absolutely atrocious in that regard.”
“If I’m atrocious with you in (that) regards, judge,” Link responded, raising his voice, “it’s because you have whipped the living daylights out of me on TV, stage and screen — and I haven’t been on stage and screen.”
Jaffe has repeatedly criticized Link’s various gambling expansion bills for a lack of ethical safeguards. The current proposal would add five casinos, including one in Chicago, and allow slot machines at horse tracks and airports.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, as well as Democratic and Republican colleagues sought to pick apart Jaffe’s complaints and find common ground on how to fashion a bill that would keep corruption out of new casinos.
Jaffe said the best way to do that is to give all regulatory authority to the Gaming Board, which means state regulators would have to sign off on even construction contracts and vendors in a Chicago casino. It would mean eliminating oversight of any kind by a Chicago-based casino authority, Jaffe said.
“I don’t want to be in a position where I’m in conflict with another agency,” Jaffe said.
He also said he would take up the invitation to help lawmakers fashion legislation, but said the bill should be only about 25 to 30 pages rather than a 550-plus page amendment now pending.
“It’s impossible to read,” said Jaffe, who acknowledged he had not read every word. Still, Jaffe maintained the current Link bill is sponsoring represented a “Christmas tree” with “something for everyone.”
After the hearing, Jaffe took issue with a provision in the bill he said would remove the current members of the Gaming Board. “Why would they want to remove everybody on the Gaming Board?” asked Jaffe, saying the board has gone from one of the nation’s worst to its best.
Before the hearing, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn scolded lawmakers over the idea of booting the Gaming Board, saying the members have “over the last quarter century done a good job.” The governor also lashed out at a provision to allow Internet gambling, an idea he said should not be passed “willy-nilly.”
Quinn has twice vetoed major gambling expansion bills lawmakers have sent to him, citing ethical concerns.
For his part, Link said later that he intends to leave Internet gambling in the legislation but plans to remove the provision that would boot the board. The Democratic lawmaker from Waukegan also said the Senate Executive Committee “accomplished exactly what we wanted to do” because senators wanted to open up communication with Jaffe.
In other action, Quinn endorsed the approach to reforming the underfunded state pensions that has gained the most traction. The House approved separate bills that would rein in cost-of-living adjustments, raise the retirement age and limit how salary could counted toward a retirement check.