The Southland — snubbed for two decades as casino after casino won approval for economically disadvantaged Illinois communities — still wants in on the action.
The state legislature could consider another gambling expansion bill that could add five casino licenses, including one in the city of Chicago, and slot machines at horse tracks and the city's two airports. A panel led by Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), sponsor of one such bill in the Illinois House, convened Monday for more than four hours to hear from the dreamers, friends and foes.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch and Bill Paulos, CEO of Cannery Casino Resorts, promised to spend more than $200 million on a casino just a short drive away from the hearing, near Interstates 80 and 57.
Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Orland Hills) is backing the Country Club Hills play and testified on its behalf, saying he believed it would bring in the most revenue.
South suburban casino advocates, whatever the town, have long argued that a Southland casino would keep gamblers from heading to the northwest Indiana casinos. Reps from the Joliet casinos testified in opposition to the south suburban locations, for obvious reasons.
Towns coping with high unemployment, such as Dolton, see the construction and the casino jobs as key to renewal — a key justification for the first casino licenses issued in the early 1990s to beleaguered river towns that has all but fallen by the wayside as casinos raked in higher and higher profits.
Backers of casino expansion predict $400 to more than $1 billion in new revenue for the state if a Chicago casino, slot machines and more casinos are allowed.
Paul Braun, mayor of Flossmoor and leader of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, said casino dollars could help the entire area through a revenue-sharing pact involving many Southland towns.
Rita said local officials are "all over the board" on revenue-sharing.
With several competing Southland proposals, they cannot agree on a plan, reports Southtown columnist Phil Kadner, who wrote about the issue in his column, particularly when there is a great economic divide between the region's haves and have-nots.
"I was told that among the communities sharing in the casino profits would be Tinley Park and Orland Park," Kadner wrote, "a fact that visibly rankled some members of the House panel who felt those towns now generate enough local tax revenue from their shopping malls."
Rita wants the gambling revenue pulled in by governments to be used for roads, bridges, transit projects and job creation, not for government operating expenses.
The governor vetoed gambling expansion in 2011 and 2012, but the state is desperate for cash and advocates for more gambling believe this helps clear the path for passage of a bill. In addition to Chicago and a spot in the south suburbs, the other proposed casino locations in the bill include Rockford, Danville and Lake County.
Gambling foe Randall Blakey, representing Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, said it was clear most speakers favored expansion and total opposition was "clearly off the table."
"That was pretty evident," Blakey told bnd.com. "It's just a matter of where the casino is going to be and how the revenue-sharing is going to take place."
Rita has been conducting hearings around the state and said he will probably convent his next hearing in Chicago.
Want to learn more? Read:
- Phil Kadner's Southtown column
- Coverage of Monday's hearing on SunTimes.com
- Gambling expansion proponents hopeful, reports ChicagoBusiness.com