Chicago Casino Shot Down in State Senate, but Resuscitation Expected

Posted on: January 11, 2017, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: January 11, 2017, 04:56h.

A Chicago casino and five other gambling licenses were up for consideration in the Illinois General Assembly, but deliberations were quickly squashed, as legislators in Springfield opted to delay legislation until incoming lawmakers are sworn into office today.

Chicago casino Illinois budget
President-elect Donald Trump is handing over control of his businesses to his children, but that might not stop them from trying to pursue a downtown Chicago casino license. (Image: Adam Oles/Curbed Chicago)

Illinois has been enduring a nearly two-year budget stalemate that’s starving public universities and social programs across the Prairie State.

A sweeping bipartisan fiscal package designed by Senate President John Cullerton (D-District 6) and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-District 41) included eight various legislative reforms. Along with the budget blueprint, the Senate leaders tacked on measures to advance a property tax freeze, higher minimum wage, government consolidation, and gambling expansion.

But earlier this week, members in the state Senate put the brakes on those efforts in order to allow the next wave of politicians to voice their opinion.

The Illinois Senate will now reorganize and reintroduce the package with the goal of passing a budget before February 1. The bill would then need approval from the state’s House of Representatives.

Casino Down by the River

Illinois law restricts gambling to riverboat casinos and at racetracks. Today, there are 10 water-based destinations spread across the state, along with five tracks that offer games of chance.

Northwest Indiana has capitalized off Chicago not having a commercial gambling establishment in the city. The Hoosier State’s riverboats on Lake Michigan have become the go-to gaming destination for Chicagoans, moving valuable revenue to Illinois’ neighboring state.

Nine years ago, the state’s Gaming Board issued a 10th and final casino license.

It went to the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, roughly 20 miles northwest of Chicago. The land-based gambling venue sits atop a shallow pit of several inches of water in order to adhere to the law. 

To end the riverboat mandate, voters would need to approve a constitutional amendment.

Windy City Turbulence

Chicago is one of the most violent cities in America, with 762 homicides taking place in 2016. That represents a 63 percent increase from the 463 murders that occurred in 2015.

The fiscal outline presented by Cullerton and Radogno does nothing to curb violence in the Windy City. However, the potential Chicago casino and other gaming expansion locations would see their tax revenue directed towards pension programs for police and firefighters.

It’s unclear where the potential Chicago riverboat might be located. The beach along Lake Michigan from Soldier Field, home of the NFL Chicago Bears, north pass the piers and Magnificent Mile to Wrigley Field, is a relatively safe part of town. The vast majority of Chicago’s violence is confined to gangs on the west and south side of the city.

Along with Lake Michigan, the North Branch of the Chicago River could provide additional locations for a riverboat venue.

Illinois casinos pay an admission tax to the state between $2 and $3 per patron. The gaming floors then pay up to 50 percent of their adjusted gross receipts (AGR) to the state depending on their annual revenue.

The Des Plaines riverboat pulled in $428.4 million in AGR last year, far and away the biggest income generator. Harrah’s Joliet came in second with $183.7 million.

Venues that surpass $200 million are taxed at the 50 percent threshold.