Chicago Considers Gambling as Possible Economic Cure-All

Published February 1, 2008

Four panelists squared off at the Union League Club of Chicago on December 4 to debate a proposal to expand legalized gambling in Illinois by allowing a city-owned casino in Chicago.

State Rep. Bob Molaro (D-Chicago), one of the lead negotiators for the pro-gambling lawmakers working with legislative leaders and the gambling industry, said during the panel discussion a local casino would “raise $1.5 billion annually to be used for infrastructure, mass transit, and public education.”

According to Molaro, under the pending gaming proposal the city government would receive 10 to 20 percent of the adjusted gross receipts annually and create thousands of jobs for local residents.

Molaro also supports increasing the number of riverboat gambling licenses and allowing slot machines at race tracks.

The Rev. Thomas Grey, national spokesman and field director for the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, disagrees with the projected revenue windfall and questions the number of jobs a Chicago casino would create.

‘Can’t Gamble Yourself Rich’

“You can’t gamble yourself rich as an individual,” Grey said. “How much less so as a government?”

Gerald Roper, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, disagreed, noting, “A Chicago-based casino would recapture hundreds of millions of entertainment dollars that flow into neighboring states and [would] position Chicago as a dynamic place to live and work. It would continue to move the city forward.”

But Jeannette Tamayo, general counsel for the Chicago Crime Commission, pointed to Chicago’s long and ongoing history of political corruption as a reason to oppose putting a casino in the city.

“Do the people of Chicago want this city government, the facilitators of the Hired Truck scandal, to own a casino?” Tamayo asked.

The Hired Truck scandal refers to dozens of federal indictments, guilty pleas, and convictions against Chicago city officials, contractors, and others who allegedly bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars through a program the city created to hire politically connected independent trucking companies for certain jobs.

Though the first indictments were revealed in 2004, the case remains in Chicago news headlines. In November 2007, Valerie Jones, a former secretary to the head of the city’s Hired Truck program, pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury investigating the program.

Harriette Johnson ([email protected]) is media relations manager for The Heartland Institute.