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Is a casino coming to Chicago?

Written by
Clayton Guse

In Tuesday night's mayoral debate, Rahm Emanuel alluded to a "Chicago-owned, Chicago-run casino that would be fully dedicated to the pensions.” There have been talks of bringing a casino to Chicago for decades, but, given the city's impending pension crisis and Chicago Public Schools, the idea is not so far-fetched. Here's why.

A casino bill has been stuck in the Illinois General Assembly for years

In February of 2013, a "Chicago Casino Development" bill (SB1739) was introduced to the assembly with the backing of state senators Terry Link and Donne Trotter and state representative Robert Rita, all of whom are Cook County democrats. The bill has gone through numerous amendments since then, none of which were able to garner former Gov. Pat Quinn's seal of approval. One iteration of the bill would bring a huge casino to the city, and another one would create five smaller casinos throughout the state. Rita slammed Quinn last month for not working with him to create an executable bill, but a new face in the Governor's Mansion could have him singing a different tune. 

The city and state are desperate for revenue

The powers that be in Chicago are trying to figure out how to pay for a $550 million increase in pension liabilities at the end of the year, as well as a $665 million CPS budget deficit that needs to be resolved before next fall. Newly-elected Gov. Bruce Rauner has also promised his own gauntlet of budget cuts, which includes hundreds of millions in state funding for projects across town. One form of the bill estimates that a Chicago casino would generate 10,000 jobs on top of the revenue that it would bring to the city and state. Rauner is adamantly against a hike in property taxes, and a casino appears to be the most promising source of new revenue on the state's docket.

The city is pouring a lot of money into McCormick Place

If there's any place in the city that seems like an ideal fit for a casino, it's McCormick Place. The location already contains a hotel and a massive convention center. Construction on the new DePaul basketball arena is underway with the help of millions in public money. Earlier this year, the Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line El station opened. The city would get to select the site of the casino, pending state approval, and it's hard to point out another location that would work.

Overall, there's still a lot of red tape between Chicago and a casino. Desperate times do call for desperate measures, and becoming the biggest American city to be home to a casino is pretty extreme. 

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