CHICAGO — Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner said Thursday he's not a fan of gambling or a plan to put slot machines at Chicago's international airports, but he wouldn't stand in the way of adding casinos if local communities support it.
Illinois lawmakers for years have pushed for expanding gambling as a way to generate funds for a state that's billions of dollars in debt and facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.
But Rauner made clear in an interview with The Associated Press that he has misgivings.
"I don't gamble. I don't like gambling," said Rauner, a businessman from Winnetka who's in a tight race against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. "It can be an addictive thing and it can hurt families that can't afford to be hurt."
Rauner, who said any expansion should maximize profit, also said he'd lean against putting slots at O'Hare and Midway airports — one of the ideas that's been floated in the Illinois Legislature.
"When visitors are coming into Illinois there's a certain image you project when folks are coming through, and I'm not sure I want that to be the image of Illinois," he said.
Quinn has twice vetoed gambling expansion proposals, largely over ethical concerns about corruption. He's said Illinois shouldn't settle for a gambling bill that "includes loopholes for mobsters."
Last year's bill calling for five new casinos fizzled out after the Illinois Gaming Board questioned if Chicago would have the authority to oversee its own casino. The bill's sponsor has since tried to iron out that issue and others by presenting lawmakers with the option of separating out the Chicago casino from four other proposed locations in a suburb south of Chicago and the counties of Lake, Winnebago and Vermilion.
Quinn has said those plans need further review.
"I am open to gaming expansion if it is done with strong oversight and ethical standards," Quinn wrote in an AP candidate questionnaire.
Rauner said he also would push for "careful, thoughtful restrictions about who's involved" in any gambling expansion, citing concerns about Illinois' history with organized crime and "unethical behavior by politicians and their cronies."
Supporters of the casino proposals have said they could generate up to $1 billion in revenue each year for the state and create much-needed jobs. But most of Illinois' 10 existing casinos have worried that over-saturation could hurt their business and lead to job losses.
Rauner said Illinois must be strategic about where and how it expands gambling — assuming local communities want it — and that he would work with the General Assembly to determine the optimum level of expansion.
"If voters and municipalities would like to see more gaming I will be supportive of that," Rauner said. "There's a point at which you're maximizing the revenue. ... If you have a slot machine on every corner pretty soon there's not as much revenue and the casinos aren't making money, nobody's profitable anymore and the system shrinks back down."
He also said he would consider looking at a Chicago casino, noting that people who want to gamble there currently may travel to the Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana — about 30 miles away — to spend their money.
"That's really dumb," Rauner said.
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