Stateline Story

Illinois Governor Seeks Midwest Compact On Gambling

Gov. George Ryan of Illinois is suggesting a regional interstate compact with five neighboring states to end friction over gaming laws.

But in the two months since enacting a gambling provision at least two of Illinois' neighbors lacked, Ryan has been slow in moving forward. He's running into criticism from lawmakers in neighboring states where riverboats are still required to cruise.

Despite the criticism, the GOP governor insists he remains serious about opening discussions with his Midwestern colleagues about a "regional interstate compact to ensure a uniform approach to gaming activities in the region," as he said last June.

Ryan's first opportunity to promote the compact idea likely will be the Midwestern Governors' Conference in Washington, where Ryan will be installed as the new chairman in late September. Illinois and its five neighbors all are members of the group.

During an appearance at the Illinois State Fair, Ryan said his aim is to avoid future skirmishes with Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Kentucky over which state can gather the biggest cut of gambling revenues from the lucrative casino industry.

"We're going to talk about different programs for governors (and) the states to work (on) together so we don't get into one of these kinds of fights," Ryan said.

Details of any potential compact have yet to be shaped by Ryan, who defended Illinois' new gambling law against allegations it is doing the very thing he would like other states to stop.

"I just wanted to put our folks on a level playing field and make sure our people weren't running over to Indiana or Michigan or Wisconsin or Missouri to spend their money. They could spend it in Illinois. I think we've done this," Ryan said.

Illinois' new gambling law dropped cruising requirements for the state's nine riverboats, allowing bettors unfettered access to and from the boats. Since the law was enacted in late June, the riverboats have enjoyed a dramatic, double-digit growth in revenues.

With those kinds of increases fattening the Illinois treasury, Ryan's recipe of detente has not been well-received by some neighbors, particularly in northwestern Indiana where riverboats must still ply the waterways.

"Illinois is one-upping Indiana, no question about that. It will now behoove Indiana to remain competitive with Illinois to try to get legislation for dockside gambling," said Democratic state Sen. Earline Rogers, who helped write that state's gambling law.

"I'd imagine when everyone's on equal footing, it would be a more proper time to talk about some cooperative agreement. But until that point, perhaps that initiative needs to be put on the backburner," Rogers said.

A spokesman for Indiana' s Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon said the Hoosier State would be receptive to discussing the issue with Ryan. But he could not predict whether an agreement could be struck, particularly with the outcry over the Illinois' law from northwestern Indiana.

"I'm not saying this might not work. But clearly, each state has its own priorities," said Phil Bremen, an aide to O'Bannon.

In mid-August, Missouri gaming officials took a step toward putting a St. Louis riverboat on "equal footing" with an East St. Louis riverboat casino that has experienced a 32-percent jump in revenues under Illinois' new dockside law.

The President Casino, moored near St. Louis' signature Gateway Arch, has been granted the same docking privileges now in effect at East St. Louis' Casino Queen on the Illinois shore of the Mississippi River.

In the wake of that move, an aide to Missouri 's Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan said the state wants to see more details of Ryan's plan before signing on any dotted lines.

"Missouri generally favors regional cooperation in riverboat gambling issues. We'd certainly be interested in the concept of a regional compact, and we'd like to see a detailed proposal if Gov. Ryan has one," Carnahan spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said.

But reflecting a note of skepticism, he said, "At the same time, we do what we think is right for Missouri, and we don't want to make a deal that would penalize us down the road."

Tags: Gambling