Blagojevich's picks to Gaming Board include gambling opponents - Saturday 12th of March 2005

CHICAGO - Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new appointments to the Illinois Gaming Board include at least two opponents of gambling who have never been to a riverboat casino, and one says a proposal to end casino gambling altogether in the state is worth considering.

Their words give hope to anti-gambling crusaders who believe the board focuses too much on casino profit and not enough on the social impact of gambling.

"Much more attention has been given to the owners and the profitability of the casinos than attention has been paid to the losers," said Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "If this is truly a new day, then profit won't be the sole motivation of the regulatory body."

The Gaming Board has been unable to take any regulatory action since August, when resignations left it with only two members - one short of a quorum.

Blagojevich put off filling the vacancies for months, saying he couldn't find qualified people who had no ties to the gambling industry. Then on Thursday, he announced five new members - three to join the board on Monday and the others to replace the current members when their terms expire July 1. The state Senate has the power to confirm or reject the appointments, but the nominees can begin serving immediately.

Retired Cook County Judge Aaron Jaffe, who is to become chairman; the Rev. Eugene Winkler, a retired Methodist minister and social activist in Chicago; and Charles Gardner, manager of a real estate investment company in the Chicago area, all start Monday.

Southern Illinois University law professor Sheila Simon, daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon; and Joe Moore Jr., who runs a public relations firm in Chicago, start in July.

Jaffe, Simon and Winkler all say they aren't gamblers and have never been to a riverboat casino.

Winkler described himself as philosophically opposed to gambling. He has fought past efforts to bring a casino to Chicago and said he doesn't think the state needs another casino license - it already has 10 casino licenses, nine of them in use. He also said he is willing to reconsider the issue of whether the state should let the 10th license go to casino planned for Rosemont.

"The governor knew my position when he asked me to serve," Winkler said. "I also understand that gambling is here to stay. This state depends on the revenue from these nine casinos."

Jaffe said he expects that the board will consider both the social and economic aspects of gambling when it takes action.

"There are a lot of people who are hurt by gambling and a lot of families who are hurt by gambling," Jaffe said. "Am I crazy about gambling? No, I'm not crazy about gambling. Am I going to say people shouldn't do it? That's not my job.

Simon, who says she isn't a fan of gambling, called a proposal currently in the Illinois House that would end casino gambling in Illinois "an idea worth looking at."

"Certainly gambling is a tax on the people who can least afford to be taxed," she told the Southern Illinoisan of Carbondale. "It's not the greatest idea."

Jaffe and Moore declined to discuss the dispute over allowing a casino in Rosemont. They also said it would be premature to comment on whether Chicago should get the city-owned casino that Mayor Richard Daley and others have pushed for, or whether gambling should be expanded in Illinois, as state lawmakers have been discussing for years.

Blagojevich, a Democrat from Chicago, has been hostile to both gambling expansion and a Chicago casino.

Jaffe, who was known as a liberal, independent member of the Legislature from 1971 to 1985, said he was not given any direction by Blagojevich on how the board should act.

"Nobody has said to me, you have to do this or do that," he said. "I intend to be my own person."

Mike Lawrence, director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said he expected Jaffe and Simon would both be independent. He said Simon has "rock-solid integrity and she marches to her own drummer."

"She's fully capable of being objective and doing what members of the board are supposed to do. They're not supposed to decide whether gambling is good or bad, they're supposed to regulate gambling," he said.

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