If Illinois is to allow widespread gambling, why isn’t there a casino located where it would do the most good?
Just in terms of the revenue potential alone, it makes perfect sense for the State of Illinois to locate a casino in Chicago.
Located in the midst of one of the world’s great cities, a site that draws tourists from all over the United States and beyond, a Chicago casino would generate many millions of dollars in new revenue for the city and the state.
So, nearly 30 years after casinos were allowed in Illinois, why isn’t there a casino in Chicago?
One obvious reason is that all the other casino owners here, particularly those relatively near Chicago, don’t want the brutal competition a casino in the city would represent.
That, of course, raises question about the massive gambling expansion bill passed this past summer by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The legislation, in addition to allowing sports gambling and permitting the state’s two race tracks to offer casino-style gambling, also authorized six new casinos, including one for Chicago.
At least it authorized one for Chicago on paper. Reality has proved to be a different story.
Legislators added so many expensive conditions to obtaining a casino license that the total cost became prohibitive for prospective operators.
There’s a $250,000 up-front application fee, a $15 million “reconciliation” fee and up to $120 million in gambling position fees. In addition, the state wants to impose a 33.3 percent “privilege” tax on top of the existing tax rates other casinos pay.
A Las Vegas consulting firm retained by the Illinois Gaming Board to study the situation contended that “the reconciliation fees alone would wipe out any profits generated for many years.”
In other words, the conditions amounted to killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
Those conditions raise questions about the legislative process that produced these onerous conditions.
Were legislators oblivious when they signed off on requirements that would blow up the permit process before it got started? Or were opponents playing a more stealthy game — appearing to permit a casino while really working to block or delay one?
In Illinois, one never knows.
But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made it clear the rules need to be revised by legislators. So she made an appearance in Springfield during the recent three-day veto session to get that done.
What happened? Nothing.
Lightfoot noted the arrest of state Rep. Luis Arroyo on bribery charges proved to be a major distraction. But she also complained that her request for changes in the gambling bill as it affects Chicago prompted other interests to seek their own changes.
“They saw this piece of legislation, particularly around casinos, as their one opportunity to get something that they felt they were promised,” she said. “People came out of the woodwork with their ‘letters to Santa.’”
Whether there really were too many mouths to feed or that was the appearance given to justify doing nothing, Chicago again was denied the opportunity to get its casino project off the ground.
Whether their tactics are deny, deny, deny or delay, delay, delay, those in the gambling business benefit from each day that Chicago offers no competition.
Legalized gambling has proved to be a mixed blessing for Illinois.
It was originally billed as a tourist draw that would help beleaguered communities hosting casinos to generate more revenue. Instead, the facts showed that those living near the casinos, not visitors to the area, patronized these venues.
In that respect, it did not generate significant economic development. Instead, it redirected local dollars that would have been spent on the local economy to the casinos.
Nonetheless, our legislators keep going back to the gambling well, hoping in the face of the facts that the revenues generated will bail the state out of its financial woes. That hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen.
If new revenue really is the goal, Chicago is the logical place for a casino. That it hasn’t happened yet is a source of wonder and suspicion.