Kadner: Cal City first with Southland casino pitch
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 June 1, 2012 11:10PM
Calumet City Mayor Michelle Qualkinbush
Updated: July 6, 2012 10:50AM
Calumet City wants to unite the south suburbs behind its bid to obtain a riverboat casino license.
On Friday, one day after the Legislature passed a gambling expansion bill, Calumet City Mayor Michelle Qualkinbush sent a letter to 44 Southland mayors, urging them to support her suburb’s proposal.
“Now that the General Assembly has approved expanded gaming, I am asking you to join us in bringing the long-awaited gaming license to the Southland,” Qualkinbush wrote. She notes that the last time a casino license became available (2008), Calumet City received two votes from the Illinois Gaming Board and “fell one vote short of obtaining the 10th license (which ultimately was awarded to Des Plaines).”
Actually, Calumet City failed to make the cut down to three finalists in 2008.
Qualkinbush claims that she has a “prominent development group” behind the effort that will operate an entertainment, hospitality, retail and gambling complex in Calumet City.
In 2008, Calumet City proposed building the casino on the west side of Torrence Avenue, about a mile north of Interstate 80.
The mayor offers to share the casino revenue so that it “will benefit everyone,” including Southland school districts. The letter urges suburban mayors to contact city attorney Burton Odelson if they would like further information.
Odelson’s law firm, Odelson & Sterk Ltd., has just taken on Illinois House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie) as “of counsel,” which means he is not a partner but works for the firm on particular assignments. Lang has been the lead sponsor of casino expansion in the House for years.
A bill expanding casino gambling and allowing slot machines at horse tracks passed the Legislature late Thursday, as it did last year when Gov. Pat Quinn vowed to veto it. He never got the chance because the bill never was sent to him.
“This time we have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate,” Odelson boasted. “It’s going to become the law. And Calumet City has the best proposal out there to bring a casino to the Southland.”
Lang wasn’t quite as optimistic as Odelson about prospects for casino expansion.
“We have a veto-proof majority in the House, and we’re very close to getting one in the Senate but we’re still working on that,” he said. “But we have repeatedly made it known to the governor and his staff that we’re willing to sit down with him and work on this legislation to resolve any problems that he has with it.”
Lang told me he became “of counsel” at Odelson & Sterk after leaving the same position at Querrey & Harrow, where Michael B. Stillman was a partner before joining Odelson’s firm.
“I left Querrey & Harrow with Stillman,” Lang said. “I have a close relationship with him and have known and worked with Burt Odelson for many years.”
Stillman, of Oak Lawn, may be best known as the fellow who purchased the “Field of Dreams” baseball field in Iowa.
Odelson, who specializes in municipal and election law, can now provide clients with a contact, Lang, who is one of the most influential members of the Legislature.
As for convincing Quinn that a casino in the Southland is a good idea, Lang said, “I just wish the governor would go to the Horseshoe Casino (in Hammond) and drive through the parking lot there.
“Just drive through the parking lot and look at all the (Illinois) license plates on those cars, and I think he would be convinced this bill is a good idea.”
Besides an undetermined Southland site, the gambling expansion bill includes casinos for Chicago, Danville, Park City and Rockford.
The language for the Southland casino states that the license is authorized for a municipality in one of the following townships of Cook County: Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich, Thornton or Worth.
In the past, several Southland towns have recruited developers and casino operators to bid for a casino license, but none has been able to put together a proposal that could compete with the northern suburbs when the 10th casino license was up for grabs.
The letter from the mayor of Calumet City is short on details, but Odelson told me an organization called Southland Casino Development Corp. LLC, which has three wealthy financial investors, would fund the plan. He said the group has not yet chosen a casino operator, but several have expressed interest.
In addition to the letter to the 44 mayors, Odelson said an email blast was sent to each of them from Calumet City and a letter is being sent to Quinn.
“This isn’t casino expansion but a recapture of revenue that should be coming to Illinois,” Odelson said. “Eighty percent of the cars parked at the Horseshoe have Illinois plates.”