Should Chicago Bank on a Casino?


Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been lobbying hard for a Chicago casino ostensibly to help tackle the city's pension and budget woes. Meanwhile, state Rep. Bob Rita is sponsoring two bills that would create as many as five new casinos in Illinois, one of which would be a mega casino in Chicago. How would a casino in Chicago impact the city? And how would it affect existing state casinos? We sit down with Kimbal Goluska, a board member of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Aaron Jaffe, former chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board and a retired judge, and Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association which is the lobbying group that represents eight of the state's 10 casinos.


On Monday morning, a House Committee of lawmakers heard testimonies for the pros and cons of the proposed construction of a Chicago casino.

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Those in support of building a Chicago casino claim that revenue could benefit education in the state, increase tourism and entertainment, and act as a source of pride for the debt ridden city.

“While the gaming tax revenues will be substantial at either end of the estimated range, the real value of, and the primary reason to pursue this endeavor is for its larger economic development and city-building potential.  That is why we have come before the various legislative committees multiple times to voice our counsel that it is essential that a downtown Chicago be done right – and the focus of today’s hearing (Tourism, Hotels and Restaurants) is an important part of that larger economic development formula’s success,” Kimbal Goluska said before the committee. Read his full testimony.

Those against the construction of the casino claim that the state would, in fact, lose money for education and it would cost the state money that it doesn’t currently have to build it. It also wouldn’t improve the gaming industry as revenue is in a decline, down over 11 percent in the last two years, according to Tom Swoik, executive director of The Illinois Casino Gaming Association.

“A lot of the people pushing for it haven’t looked at the facts and seen what will occur and what revenues it’ll generate,” said Swoik.

Another issue at hand is who would own the casino. Rep. Bob Rita’s office has filed two House Bills (HB2939 and HB3564) to expand gambling in the state. The bills call for a state owned casino and shared revenue 50-50 with the city of Chicago.

Former Chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board, Aaron Jaffe, says it’s not up to the government to own a casino.

“I don’t think it’s a government’s responsibility to be the owner of a casino. And you’re put in a peculiar position if you own your own casino,” said Jaffe. “I don’t know how you would do anything with it. Is it possible to own it, regulate it and be the regulator? No.”

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