New head of Gaming Board promises action - Saturday 12th of March 2005

The Illinois Gaming Board met for the first time in seven months Thursday, with its new chairman promising quick action on pending issues and independence from political influence.

The Gaming Board, which regulates casinos in the state, had been unable to meet or take action since August, when resignations left it with only two members-- one short of a quorum.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich held off appointing any replacements until last week, when he named an entirely new five-member slate; three started Monday and the others will replace William Dugan and Gary Peterlin when their terms expire July 1.

"Today is the day we begin to scratch the surface," said new chairman Aaron Jaffe, a retired Cook County judge.

Gaming Board interim administrator Jeannette Tamayo briefed members on pending issues before they went into closed session. Jaffe said he did not know when the board would meet next to vote on those matters.

The board's inability to take action left millions of dollars in construction on hold. Casinos in East St. Louis, Joliet, Metropolis and Rock Island have been waiting to begin expansion projects, a controversial plan to build a casino in Rosemont is on hold, and casino license renewals have been delayed.

"We intend to be working very hard and we intend to be working very diligently to attend to all of the issues that confront the board at this particular time," Jaffe said. "We want to do it honestly, we want to do it quickly, we want to do it fairly and we want to do it without any interference from anyone."

Jaffe also promised to be open with the public and free of any political influence.

"I will make this commitment to you and this guarantee to you, that this board will be independent of any other body or persons or anyone at all. This is going to be probably the most independent board that you'll find in government existing today," he said.

Jaffe said he would talk "to everyone in government that I can to settle all of the territorial problems that we have."

Peterlin and Dugan told a House committee last month that Blagojevich's administration had repeatedly interfered with the board by handing out contracts and hiring board employees. The board is part of the state Department of Revenue, and Peterlin and Dugan questioned why the department hired a legislative liaison when they said the position wasn't needed.

Jaffe also said there would be no changes in the present Gaming Board staff and pledged to try to hire additional staff. He said the board is understaffed in some areas by as much as 50 percent.

Two other new board members-- the Rev. Eugene Winkler, a retired Methodist minister, and Charles Gardner, manager of a real estate investment company-- also attended Thursday's meeting. Southern Illinois University law professor Sheila Simon and public relations expert Joe Moore Jr. start in July. The Senate has the power to confirm or reject the appointments.

Peterlin and Dugan, both appointed by Blagojevich's Republican predecessor, said they will work with the new members until their terms expire.

"We have stayed on this board for the last eight months during very difficult circumstances because we care. And, although the sun is setting on our time, we know we have a lot of work to do," Peterlin said.

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