Changes to gaming board encouraged - Saturday 12th of March 2005

The new chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board urged lawmakers Wednesday to separate the board from the state Department of Revenue, saying the five-member regulatory board needs to be truly independent and hire its own staff.

The board also approved plans for Harrah's Metropolis casino to build a $62 million hotel and entertainment complex.

It was the Gaming Board's first major action since resignations last summer left it one member short of a quorum. Gov. Rod Blagojevich delayed filling the vacancies until this month, when he named all new members; three started last week and the others replace William Dugan and Gary Peterlin when their terms expire in July.

New board chairman Aaron Jaffe, a retired Cook County judge, said Wednesday that the board is hampered trying to operate as part of the state Department of Revenue.

There are "sibling rivalries" among agencies involved with the board, Jaffe said. He said that the board pays some people who were hired by the agencies, such as casino investigators hired by the Illinois State Police, but that those people believe they should answer to their original agency and not the Gaming Board.

"It's absolutely a ridiculous situation," Jaffe said. "I think it is absolutely a necessity for us to change the statute and make it absolutely clear that the Illinois Gaming Board is its own boss."

Jaffe said the Department of Revenue did not consult the Gaming Board on its proposed budget for the board, and he said the board's current legislative liaison, a politically connected state employee who was hired by the Department of Revenue, is not qualified.

The board needs an experienced lobbyist who can analyze legislation from a legal perspective, Jaffe said. Department spokeswoman Geraldine Conrad has said liaison Linda Freveletti's previous experience working for state agencies makes her qualified.

Before Blagojevich took office, the Department of Revenue had limited involvement with the Gaming Board, even though it was technically part of the department. But Dugan and Peterlin told a House committee last month that Blagojevich's administration had repeatedly interfered with the board by handing out contracts and hiring board employees against their wishes.

Conrad said officials would discuss the board's concern with Jaffe.

"The governor appointed a board that's independent and has integrity and the Department of Revenue will consider any ideas that they offer to improve or change things," Conrad said.

Blagojevich said later Wednesday that he would support legislation to separate the board. He said his new appointees reflect a lot of his values and beliefs.

"If Judge Jaffe and the new members of the Gaming Board want to disassociate themselves from the Department of Revenue, all power to them. I appointed them to make independent decisions without any meddling whatsoever," the governor said.

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