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Claypool slaps Berrios over gaming bill
By Ted Cox and John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/24/2010 6:19 PM

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Independent Cook County assessor candidate Forrest Claypool charged Monday that Democratic nominee Joseph Berrios, working as a lobbyist for the video-poker industry, is pushing a law through the General Assembly designed to weaken the authority of the state gaming board.

"I call on members of the House to reject the Senate-passed legislation restricting the Illinois Gaming Board's ability to deny licenses for video gambling," Claypool said. "Regulators need all the help they can get in bringing these video-gambling practices into the light of day where the influence of organized crime can be removed."

Claypool says the proposed changes "will restrict the ability of the Illinois Gaming Board to deny licenses to felons and others affiliated with organized crime."

Berrios did not respond to a request for comment.

An Illinois House committee approved the legislation Monday, sending it on to the full House for consideration, possibly this week.

At issue is a clause in the legislation that says the gaming board can deny a license for video gambling only if the applicant has been convicted on an illegal gambling charge.

The problem for regulators is that in most cases. the owners of bars and even some of those rounded up in video gambling raids are never convicted. Many could plead guilty to lesser crimes that don't fall under the gambling statutes. And bar owners, in particular, often face only a fine from the state's liquor control commission.

Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Mark Ostrowski said the changes would make it essentially impossible to deny applications based on past instances of illegal machine use. He said convictions are rare.

But state Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat sponsoring the proposal, said the Gaming Board brought this provision on itself by having vague regulations in this area.

Lang said the board's stance was new violations would disqualify someone but past violations "may keep" someone from getting a license. He considered that inconsistent.

Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe is opposed. He said the new law, if passed, would hinder the board from policing the industry over misuse of video gambling machines.

"You cannot deny (video gambling operators) a license just because they've done bad, unless they've actually committed a crime and they're convicted of a crime. There are very, very, very, very few convictions on these things," Jaffe said. "The law-enforcement agencies have not enforced this, and we are, pursuant to statute, charged to make sure gaming is free of forces that are not very savory."

Berrios' B-P Consultants is a registered lobbyist for the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Assoc., which has fought hard to expand video gambling.

The law has little if anything to do with the Cook County assessor's office, and Claypool's charge is more of a political volley in an increasingly bitter, and early, campaign.

Claypool is a Cook County commissioner, while Berrios, head of the Cook County Democratic Party, is a commissioner on the Board of Review. Both are Chicago Democrats, but they are political rivals. Claypool decided not to seek re-election as a commissioner, but entered the assessor's race as an independent after Berrios won the Democratic primary.

Claypool will have to present 25,000 authenticated signatures by June 21 to get on the ballot for the general election in November, but faces certain challenges from Berrios. A spokesman said Claypool aims to collect more than 50,000 signatures.

Berrios has said he'll halt his lobbying efforts if elected assessor.