Another year, another try for more casinos
By Casey Toner email@example.com January 26, 2014 6:56PM
Updated: February 28, 2014 6:21AM
Some state lawmakers are betting that Gov. Pat Quinn is more likely to approve casino expansion now that a pension reform bill has been passed.
Of course, that presumes that, unlike in recent years, the Legislature can agree on a bill and that Quinn finds it acceptable
State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, said he wants to deliver a casino bill, which would add a Southland casino, to Quinn to sign by spring. Rita became the House’s chief sponsor of casino expansion last spring after Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, withdrew after a possible conflict of interest arose.
Quinn vetoed casino bills in 2011 and 2012 because of several concerns, mainly regarding ethics and regulation, but last year the legislation never reached a House vote after passing the Senate.
As of now, the plan remains to add five casinos, including one in Chicago and one at an undetermined site in the south suburbs. The townships of Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich, Thornton and Worth all are in contention for that casino.
Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said Quinn previously told his group that pension reform, which the General Assembly passed last month, “was an obstacle to a lot of things moving forward.”
“I think it makes the climate better (for a casino),” Paesel said.
Nevertheless, issues persist that could again stymie casino expansion. A major one concerns whether a Chicago casino would be governed by a city board rather than the Illinois Gaming Board, which oversees all casinos in the state, Rita said.
Rita compared the regulatory power struggle between the city and state with the politics clouding the development of the Illiana Expressway.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Committee, a board with heavy state influence, put the proposed 47-mile tollway on the fast track for federal funds in October. One week earlier, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which is heavily influenced by Cook County and Chicago interests, rejected the project.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch sides with the state on the issue of who would have authority over a Chicago casino.
“I’ve been to casinos in the state, and I believe they are managed very properly and I think (the gaming board) has an excellent reputation,” Welch said. “I haven’t heard anything where they have done anything wrong that would change my mind on anything.”
Country Club Hills is one of several towns competing for the Southland casino. He wants it built at Cicero Avenue and 175th Street, near the Interstates 80 and 57 interchange, which he said would provide the highest traffic count of any Southland location.
“It’s going to be our year,” Welch said. “One way or another, it will be our year.”
North Las Vegas-based casino developer Cannery Casino Resorts previously announced that it plans to build a $250 million casino on the site if the city gets the license.
“We’re the only ones that have stepped forward with the money, with the funding, with the ability to do the project now,” said Bill Paulos, Cannery’s chief executive officer. “So far, nobody has stepped forward. There has been a lot of people talking, a lot of people beating their chests saying, ‘I will do this, I will do this,’ but they don’t have the funding.”
Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez previously has thrown his support behind a casino in nearby Ford Heights.
“The south suburbs has one of the highest rates of unemployment, and a casino would be an economic boost,” Gonzalez said.