Chicago Mayor Suggests Using Casino Resort to Revitalize Downtrodden Neighborhood

Posted on: July 18, 2019, 10:05h. 

Last updated on: July 18, 2019, 10:05h.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) has selected five possible sites for the city’s integrated casino resort, and the pinpointed areas are in neighborhoods desperately in need of economic revitalization.

Chicago casino Illinois gaming Lori Lightfoot
The mayor of Chicago wants to bring a casino to a crime-ridden area of the city’s south or west side. (Image: Redditt)

Four are in Chicago’s South Side, and the fifth on the West Side. None are downtown near Millennium Park, which attracts 25 million visitors yearly, or the Navy Pier – both considered favored locations by gaming analysts.

Instead, Lightfoot has picked locations in zones with high crime rates, poverty, and gun violence. The first-term mayor is sticking to her campaign promise to commit investments that spur economic development on the South and West sides.

While a Chicago casino has been talked about for more than 30 years, today we are moving forward to ensure the new casino is viable for Chicago and all of its communities,” Lightfoot said.

The sites include: Harborside (111th and the Bishop Ford Freeway); the former Michael Reese hospital (31st and Cottage Grove); Pershing & State; Roosevelt & Kostner; and the former US Steel parcel (80th and Lake Shore Drive).

Nothing Set in Stone

Lightfoot will have a strong say in where the casino is eventually earmarked for, but the mayor explains the resort could ultimately end up somewhere other than the five sites she’s picked.

The Chicago casino was authorized under the gaming expansion legislation signed into law last month by Governor JB Pritzker (D). Five smaller regional urban casinos were also approved in the legislative package called the “Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan.”

Las Vegas-based Union Gaming will now review the five sites and report back to Lightfoot, the governor, and legislative leaders on the feasibility of each location. Specifically, the analytical firm will make recommendations as to whether casino operators would be interested in investing in such areas.

The Chicago casino will be permitted to house up to 4,000 gaming positions – the total number of seats in front of slot machines and table games.

Chicago Attractiveness

Global Market Advisors’ 2015 white paper “Casinos and the City” studied decades of casino developments in major urban metropolises. The review concluded that “urban casinos developed in the latter part of the 20th century failed to integrate themselves into their host communities, did not stimulate economic and commercial activity in their host neighborhoods, and essentially became islands within the greater urban landscape.”

The single greatest mistake that government can do is to designate a site for gaming that is inappropriate for a casino,” the firm stated. “Simply because government has identified a site that needs to be redeveloped does not make it compatible for an integrated urban casino resort.”

Attracting casino operators to bid on a project that could cost more than $1 billion might prove difficult. Penn National CEO Tim Wilmott – whose company operates three riverboats in Illinois – says the upfront $120 million licensing fee and mandate of sharing two-thirds of its gaming revenue in taxes is off-putting.

“It’s going to make the Chicago casino a very difficult investment to make,” Wilmott concluded.