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Alderman Bet on Gaming to Bring Revenue to Chicago

A key Chicago alderman said last week that he hopes state lawmakers will consider a proposal to build a casino on the site of the now-closed Michael Reese Hospital.

Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) said he walked the entire parking lot outside of a Northwest Indiana casino this summer counting license plates – and spotted 87 percent from Illinois.

“Its not like we are inventing anything new here, it’s just across the border,” Mell said. “Elgin sucks the money out of Chicago, Joliet sucks the money out of Chicago and now Des Plaines is about to suck money out of Chicago, too.”

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who’s mulling a race for mayor, said he was also inspired by a trip to the Indiana casino located 30 minutes from downtown Chicago.

Fioretti said the casino raked in $50 million in tax revenue during July alone, with a healthy chunk of that revenue coming from Illinois residents.

“With one giant, land-based, government-owned casino, we want to change the future of the city of Chicago,” Fioretti said.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said that while some members of the General Assembly would like another crack at gaming legislation, it remains a long shot. And that there is no indication that it will be added as an amendment in November when lawmakers return to the capital for their veto session.

“There have been renewed discussions on gaming,” Brown said. “But given the history of gaming legislation and how controversial the topic is, I wouldn’t predict any action any time soon.”

Fioretti and Mell mentioned the former site of Michael Reese Hospital as a possible location for a permanent casino. Mayor Daley bought the 37-acre campus for $86 million to make way for an Olympic Village, before Chicago was voted out off the running.

“We have this big white elephant sitting there in the Michael Reese Hospital that we are indebted to and all this property around it,” Mell said. “What better than a giant casino and gigantic entertainment center? Lets get some revenue instead of sticking our heads in the sand.”

In 2009, the nine casinos operating in Illinois reported gross revenues of nearly $1.5 billion, out of which the $495 million tax revenue is split among the community where the casino is located, the Illinois Board of Gaming and to education for the state, according to Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Gaming Association.

“I’d like to see a stable economic environment for our business in the state of Illinois,” said Swoik, adding that gaming revenue has taken a 20 percent hit due to the economy and the smoking ban. “A casino in Chicago might help as long as it’s not diluting the pool of other revenue in the suburbs.”

But some say bringing a casino to the city may only add to Chicago’s financial woes.

“Casinos are like an 800-pound gorilla that comes into the community and takes all the money,” said Jerry Prosapio, co-founder of Gambling Exposed. “They throw out these bones to the community, they buy ballparks for kids and give seniors homes. But the bottom line is that for every dollar a casino makes, it costs the state $3 dollars as the result of the hidden costs brought on by addiction, bankruptcy and crime.”

John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, said Cullerton would be open to supporting lucrative gaming legislation, but that at the moment that doesn’t exist.

“The Senate president is in favor of gaming legislation that can pass and would help our state’s revenue picture,” Patterson said. “However, at this point, no such proposal is before the Senate. Discussions continue, but when it comes to gaming, there are always ongoing discussions.”

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