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Senators to hear concerns on gambling, corruption

Sara Burnett and Regina Garcia Cano, Associated Press

FILE - In this April 21, 2005 file photo, Aaron Jaffe, head of the Illinois Gaming Board, appears at a meeting of the board in Chicago. On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, Jaffe was scheduled to appear before a Senate committee in Springfield to address concerns about the latest proposal to expand gambling in Illinois. Jaffe has been critical of gambling expansion, calling proposals "garbage" and saying they would allow organized crime to infiltrate casinos. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Lawmakers were working Wednesday to overcome a major stumbling block to expanding gambling in Illinois as a key Senate committee called a hearing on whether adding casinos and other forms of gambling would open the door to political corruption and organized crime.

Senate President John Cullerton invited representatives of the Illinois Gaming Board and the Chicago Crime Commission to appear before the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday afternoon. Both groups have expressed concerns about expanding gambling.

Cullerton Spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the Chicago Democrat wants to try to find out what the concerns are and discuss ways to address the issue. But she says Cullerton has his doubts about whether the concerns are legitimate or "hyperbole" intended to derail the measure.

"If there's something that's real there, let's unearth it and fix it and figure out how to move on," Phelon said.

Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed a gambling bill last year because he said it didn't have enough ethical protections.

In his budget address last month, he said any new gambling expansion must be "done right," adding that it must have "tough ethical standards, a campaign contribution ban on casino operators, and no loopholes for mobsters."

Later that day, the Senate Executive Committee voted to advance a bill sponsored by Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan.

Proponents say the measure could generate between $400 million and $1 billion for the cash-strapped state.

The proposal would add casinos in Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Chicago's south suburbs and Lake County. It also allows current and future casino licensees to apply for an internet gambling, or "iGambling" license, and green lights slot machines at racetracks, with 1,200 machines to be located in Cook County and another 900 outside the county's boundaries.

The Chicago casino licensee would be allowed to apply for up to 4,000 slot machines that could be operated at Midway and O'Hare international airports.

The proposal prohibits licensees from giving campaign contribution to office holders and candidates.

The measure calls for the bulk of revenue from brick-and-mortar gambling to go to education funding, which Quinn has proposed cutting by $400 million this year — cuts he saws are necessary because the Legislature has yet to approve a fix for the state's multibillion-dollar pension crisis. That $400 million reduction would bring the total cut to education to more than $1 billion since 2008.

Money from internet gambling would go to pay down the state's backlog of unpaid bills — estimated at $9 billion — and to treatment programs for gambling addiction.

But Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe has said the board, which regulates gambling, is already understaffed and that any legislation must include money to fully fund the board.