It’s a battle royale among deep-pocketed developers who want to build a mega gambling and entertainment complex in the Windy City.
After a series of fits and starts, the City of Chicago appears to be on the verge of approving a bid for the construction of a casino and entertainment complex.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is reviewing five proposals submitted by three companies, said she’s hoping to make a recommendation to the city council early in 2022.
If the council accepts her recommendation, the Illinois Gaming Commission will vote on granting a license to the selected developer.
The process is clear, but it will move at a glacial pace.
That’s because regulators must conduct a background check of all the parties to the proposal. Given the nature of gambling as an enterprise and Chicago’s sordid history of corruption, much of it mob-related, it’s difficult to hazard a guess about what a serious probe might reveal.
Previous efforts by various power brokers to win a casino license have been replete with reports of self-dealing and featured an array of shady characters.
Here’s why. The proposed casino should be a honeypot for whoever is ultimately granted a license. Chicago is a world-class city that draws many thousands of visitors each year from all over the world. A casino and entertainment complex there would be a huge draw, generating profits for the owners and tax revenue for the city.
Indeed, city and state officials have been frothing at the mouth for months in anticipation of the potential tax revenue. Their avarice turned into a hurdle for developers who became concerned that huge upfront payments sought by government officials would be an impediment to success. Whatever problems there were, apparently, have been worked out — at least for now.
The bidders — Bally’s, Hard Rock and Rush Street Gaming — are all veterans of the gambling business. Each can be expected to submit attractive proposals that are long on superlatives.
But words are cheap. The city has to be convinced that whatever plan it ultimately recommends is best for the developers, the city and its residents.
At the same time, people must temper their tax revenue expectations.
City officials plan to use much, perhaps all, of the new revenue to shore up their failing public-employee pension plans. But gambling expansion and the new tax revenue it generates is not a magic for desperate public officials.
That ought to be clear after years and years of gambling expansion approved by the General Assembly.
It’s not that revenue increases have come in short of expectations. It’s that state debt, particularly for its under-funded public pension, is so deep.
To put it bluntly, the idea that increased gambling revenue will produce a substantial improvement has proved to be nothing but fool’s gold. Nonetheless, if Illinois is to have casino gambling it’s hard to think of a better place to put one than in Chicago.