It appears that Chicago wants a political honey pot more than it wants a casino.
The powerful political interests who run the city of Chicago have insisted for years that the city both wants and needs a casino.
That's why every year Chicago-area legislators posture, preen and push for a gambling expansion bill that they insist will produce so much new revenue that it will ease the state's financial woes.
But the powers that be in Chicago don't want a casino nearly so much as they want to control the casino. That's why when Gov. Pat Quinn says yes to a Chicago casino, city leaders, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, start adding caveats to the proposal.
They'll take a casino if all the members of the Illinois Gaming Board are dismissed.
They'll take a casino if it's owned by the city and its charter to operate can never be revoked no matter what level of wrongdoing is discovered.
They'll take the casino if city officials, not the state's gaming board, have the authority to oversee its operations.
Gov. Pat Quinn hasn't so much said "no" to these extremely suspicious requests as he has said "never."
Quinn can spot monkey business a mile away, and this proposed monkey business isn't even well disguised. Indeed, it has flashing red lights that state, "Monkey business in progress."
It doesn't take much imagination to see why city officials want to operate a Chicago casino on their own terms, which would not be the same terms as other casinos in Illinois. It represents an irresistible honey pot of patronage jobs and lucrative contracts.
Under law, the state's gaming commission is the designated regulator of Illinois casinos, and it's no secret that its members and staff are determined to keep a sharp eye out for unsavory interests trying to work their way inside these operations. That includes organized crime, which is a prominent fact of life in Chicago's political system.
Although Quinn has twice vetoed legislation that would dramatically expand legalized gambling in Illinois, he has stated he will sign gambling expansion legislation. One pending proposal Quinn has indicated he'll support authorizes five new casinos, including in Danville as well as in Chicago, and slot machines at race tracks.
On its face, it would appear to represent almost everything that gambling expansion advocates have been pushing for the past 10 years. Even more important from the expansionists' point of view, it represents a long-sought accommodation between backers of casino expansion and horse racing interests.
So what's the problem?
Chicago interests keep trying to sneak a city-control provision into the bill and past Quinn.
The latest iteration of the plan calls for joint city/state regulation of the proposed Chicago casino. One need not be unduly cynical to suspect this is just another way around effective state regulation.
There is simply no legitimate reason a casino in Chicago should be regulated any differently than any other gambling enterprise in this state. Any other approach is indefensible.
Chicago politicians have traditionally been unembarrassed about their approach to public policy. It's all about mixing self-interest with the public interest, and everyone knows which of those options receives the higher priority.
It's equally clear that city advocates won't back off from their plan until they are convinced it cannot pass in the form they wish. Perhaps they figure they can outlast the opposition, that supporters of other aspects of the bill will put pressure on Quinn to cave in to the city's demands. That's not a bad strategy, but Quinn cannot allow it to work.
Gambling poses all kinds of issues beyond those of entertainment and revenue. Chief among them is appropriate regulation because of the sinister forces the business attracts. That can never be compromised.