Earlier today, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had vetoed a controversial bill that would have brought gambling to that state’s largest urban center. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to rally support in the legislature for expanded gambling, stopping short of threatening to seek votes to override the veto.

Both men are Chicago Democrats, and both nominally support casino expansion in a state that introduced gambling in 1991 and now has nine riverboat casinos. The new bill would increase that number to 13, create a single brick-and-mortar casino in Chicago, and allow for video slots at existing racetracks. Quinn believes the bill is too lax, and would open “loopholes for mobsters,” harkening Chicago’s past as a center for organized crime. Emanuel insists that a downtown casino is so lucrative an economic development tool that any delay in construction is depriving the city of valuable tourist dollars and a new source of educational funds.

The debate is just the latest in a decades-long controversy over what role, if any, casinos can play in the revival of America’s cities. The economic downturn has given states an impetus to open up new sources of revenue, with gambling often viewed as low-hanging fruit. Twelve states have expanded gambling options in the last three years, 22 now permit commercial casinos (up from two in 1974), and Hawaii’s legislature is currently considering plans that would leave Utah as the sole state without some form of legalized gambling. {…}