It may not get done in the next few days as initially planned, but legislative leaders said Tuesday they are making progress on a gaming-expansion bill that will fund a multibillion-dollar state public works construction program.

It may not get done in the next few days as initially planned, but legislative leaders said Tuesday they are making progress on a gaming-expansion bill that will fund a multibillion-dollar state public works construction program.


 


All four leaders — including House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago — met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the Capitol to hash out details of capital/gaming legislation. They didn’t reach final agreement on anything, but no one stormed out of the meeting in anger, either.


 


“We had a good meeting,” Madigan said. “It appears we are making progress. There are differences that I am not getting into, (but) on balance, a good meeting.”


 


“There is a willingness unlike I’ve seen in a long time to get a capital bill done,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.


 


Approval of an increase in mass-transit funding desperately needed by the metropolitan Chicago area is now linked to passage of the capital/gaming package. Blagojevich and Cross both said last week they believed an agreement on a capital bill paid with gambling revenues could be reached in seven to 10 days. That informal deadline has now been extended.


 


“We’re not going to have a bill done for a while. It’s very complicated,” Cross said Tuesday.


 


“I think we are talking more time than that,” added Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, referring to the seven to 10 days.


 


Talks are centering on a land-based casino for Chicago, a new riverboat casino at a location to be determined, allowing existing riverboats to add gaming positions and permitting horse racing tracks to install slot machines. Some lawmakers, though, are pushing for two more riverboat casino licenses in addition to Chicago’s. Others oppose slot machines at horse racing tracks.


 


“I could vote for slots at the tracks,” Watson said. “I’m not sure I’ve got members who can.”


 


The negotiators are trying to figure out just how large a gambling-expansion bill can get through the General Assembly. The larger the expansion, the more money generated for public works projects.


 


Madigan’s call for a completely revamped Illinois Gaming Board is also apparently causing some problems. Madigan has proposed a series of changes to the board that he said will free it from political influences. He is insisting that his changes be part of any gaming expansion.


 


Cross and Watson both agree that changes to the board should be made. They said some concerns were raised about that aspect of the plan at Tuesday’s meeting, but neither would discuss specifics.


 


“At the end of the day, given this industry, we want to make sure all ethical standards are met,” Cross said.


 


Neither Blagojevich nor Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, spoke to reporters after the meeting that lasted nearly three hours. Madigan left after about an hour, with Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, remaining as his representative.


 


Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.