— The Illinois House's longtime gambling expansion point man has dropped his sponsorship of a casino bill to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie wrote to the House clerk that he is now affiliated with a law firm that has a client with an "interest that could be impacted by" gambling legislation that has passed the Senate and is pending in the House.
On Tuesday, Lang declined to identify the law firm or the client, saying he is not required to disclose them. But attorney Burt Odelson said Lang is "of counsel" to Evergreen Park's Odelson & Sterk Ltd., which represents Calumet City in its attempts to land a casino license.
Odelson said Lang has been with the firm a little more than a year. During that time, Lang has sponsored bills to add five new casinos, including one for the south suburbs that Calumet City hopes to obtain. Odelson, who indicated he is city attorney for Calumet City, said he does not see a conflict for Lang because the lawmaker does no legal work for the town.
In the letter, Lang wrote that "it was recently brought to my attention that there may be a perceived conflict of interest." Lang, too, said he does no legal work for the client and insisted there have been no ethics violations "of any kind."
Lang said he is "distancing myself from public perception that there may be something untoward because there isn't." Lang also said he is weighing whether to vote on the legislation if it comes before the House. Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, is the new sponsor.
Odelson also acknowledged his firm has a contract to work on a legal case regarding flooding in Rockford, which is a casino destination that is named in the gambling legislation.
The issue surfaced less than a week after Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer announced his retirement while noting again that the legislative prohibition against conflicts of interest is a "toothless tiger."
Homer noted that "even the appearance of conflicts of interest by legislators results in public cynicism."
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan, said he and Senate President John Cullerton met with Rita to go over the fine points of the bill, most specifically the issues of Gaming Board governance and taxation involving a Chicago casino. “He’s on the (powerful House) Executive Committee. He’s from the south suburbs. He’s always voted for the bill. I’m not concerned,” Link said of Rita. Link acknowledged a learning curve for the new sponsor and also admitted Rita was not as “flamboyant” in pushing legislation as Lang.Lang and Quinn had several previous battles over the content of gaming legislation, but Link said he was confident that the legislative majority and the governor were "very close" to agreement. Link said he was convinced Madigan moved the sponsorship of the bill to Rita and was confident he would spend time working to advance it. “It’s the biggest bill he’s ever had,” Link said.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday attempted to deflect Gov. Pat Quinn's criticism that the pending gambling legislation lacks proper state oversight of a Chicago casino by proclaiming that he shares the governor's concerns.
"We've made a number of changes, which I agree with wholeheartedly, to give the state board some oversight and some ability to review pieces of the casino that are essential for its governance," Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference. "We are working through the details, but the objectives are not in doubt."
Quinn has said he believes the Illinois Gaming Board should have final approval of all Chicago casino contracts to ensure that the city has no improper ties to vendors involved in the project. When asked why he wanted sole control over such contracts, Emanuel did not address Quinn's concern that organized crime or other unsavory interests could become involved in casino contracts.
Instead, the mayor pointed to the fact that the contracts would be signed by a taxpayer-backed Chicago casino authority. "The Chicago taxpayers are going to be on the hook," he said.
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