Chicago Chinatown Voices Casino Concerns, Cites High Addiction Rates Among Community

Posted on: December 16, 2021, 02:01h. 

Last updated on: December 16, 2021, 09:48h.

Some area residents in Chicago’s Chinatown are speaking up about their concerns regarding a casino resort potentially coming to the community.

Chicago Chinatown casino integrated resort
Chicago’s Willis Tower is seen in the distance from the Windy City’s Chinatown neighborhood. Some in the Asian community believe a casino resort is best reserved for elsewhere in Chicago. (Image: Shutterstock)

Illinois passed a commercial gaming bill in 2019 that Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed into law that July. The casino expansion package authorized five casinos in the Chicago suburbs, plus a larger integrated resort (IR) downtown.

Last month, Chicago unveiled the five qualifying IR proposals for the lone downtown Windy City casino license. Four of them are targeting sites in the Near South Side, which is adjacent to Chinatown.

Rush Street Gaming, Bally’s, and Hard Rock have each rendered IR schemes to the city that propose large casino resorts in and around the McCormick Place convention center. Chicago-based Rush Street has pitched the city two IR possibilities for the McCormick area.

Asian Gambling Prevalence

Community leaders in the Chinatown community believe bringing such a casino to the neighborhood would exploit a population that is already vulnerable to developing gambling problems.

If you were to ask anyone off the street, most likely nine out of 10 will tell you they know someone who struggles with gambling,” declared resident Eunice Liao.

Liao made her comments to Block Club Chicago, a local nonprofit news organization. Liao heads a problem gambling program in Chinatown at the Pui Tak Center, a church-based community center. Chicago’s Greater Chinatown community has a population estimated at north of 30,000 people.

Gambling is a cherished pastime for many Asian cultures. “If you don’t gamble, you don’t know how lucky you are,” is a popular saying among Chinese gamblers.

But mental health experts say the line between recreational gambling and playing for entertainment’s sake is often blurred with problem gaming behavior.

“Casinos have capitalized on this by marketing aggressively to Asians — especially Asian immigrants — by offering Asian entertainers, ethnic food, free transportation, and even card dealers who speak Asian languages,” explains a Psychology Today study on problem gambling risks in Asian populations in the US where casinos exist nearby.

Casinos Could Quash Worries

Rush, Bally’s, and Hard Rock are set to present their five casino blueprints during an in-person and online streaming event today beginning at 12:45 pm CST.

In-person attendees, as well as those watching remotely, will be able to ask the casino operators questions regarding their development plans. The press conference will stream online here.

Chicago’s request for proposals issued in April detailed an array of minimum requirements and amenities for qualifying IR bids. The RFP stated that proposals must come with 500 or fewer hotel rooms, meeting space, restaurants and bars, and an entertainment venue.

But the RFP said nothing about what sort of requirements the downtown Chicago casino must offer to prevent the resort from delivering societal harms to at-risk populations.

One solution is to allocate a small portion of the associated gaming tax revenue the casino would generate, opines Grace Cham McKibben, executive director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community,

The goal is to fund local support and treatment programs in the communities directly surrounding the resort.