Chicago's decades-old casino debate is coming up as lawmakers push to erect a state-owned gambling facility in the South Loop.
In time of an April 15 public hearing, Rep. Bob Rita testified that amending the Chicago Casino Development Authority Act (CCDAA) to let casinos to build within city limits would produce sizeable revenue for the state.
Rita is the supporter of two amendments to the act, the first of which would let for the construction of Chicago's first casino; which would involve over 10,000 gambling systems, same to more than eight riverboat casinos; and share profits with both the city as well as the state. The second amendment pushes for the opening of a smaller Chicago casino with up to 6,000 systems plus four other casinos in Illinois towns.
Fans claim the state-owned facilities would lead to economic development, but critics' debate that there is insufficient demand for casinos considering Illinois casino revenue has turned down by as much as 50 % in the past year, according to Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association (EDCGA).
Video slot systems, popularly referred to as video game gambling, have interfered with the casino industry because they are suitably located in bars and restaurants, so there is minimum of a reason to travel to casinos, Swoik said. The state started regulating the systems, restricting business owners to five in 2012.
"If you see the figures month to month, there is a robust drop and it is across the board," said Caleb Melamed, an attorney for the Illinois Gaming Board that controls Illinois casinos. "Most people thought video gaming would not affect gambling and it does. You can never act in isolation."
People are still capable of gambling in suburban places where there are no nearby casinos since they have access to slot systems in restaurants and bars, according to Swoik, who said he is not sure whether a Chicago casino would be financially booming.
"We are not creating new gamblers," Swoik said. "This is a question of supply or demand. Creating new supply in a saturated market doesn't create create demand."
Regardless of concern that there is already excessive competition for casinos, Rita maintains that gaming devices and traditional casinos are not comparable since they don't offer the same social setting and don't appeal to all gamblers.
"They talk about video gaming as well as how it is saturating the market, but we just regulated that," Rita said. "There is no way in the world it is saturating the market. How could that be a debate?"
Kim Goluska, president of Chicago Consultants Studio Inc., echoed Rita's statements, adding that a Chicago casino would present the state with an unswerving revenue stream and setup thousands of job opportunities for service employees.
Goluska said a South Loop casino would support both domestic as well as international tourism since it could draw gamblers from all over the world. He anticipated that a downtown casino would set up 17,000 jobs and produce over $6.5 billion every year.
Several casinos would assist alleviate the state's $7 billion deficit but could easily become dishonest, said Art Bilek, executive vice president of the Chicago Crime Commission. Bilek said he would not go up against a Chicago casino as long as it would not be state-operated. Based upon Illinois' history of dishonest politicians, Bilek said he doubts revenue produced through a state-run casino would be managed ethically, adding that personal owned casinos would benefit the state's economy by offering employment opportunities and even encouraging tourism.
"It should be known that a casino is not for campaign donations or for a political career," Bilek said. "It would open the gaming industry to uncall for risks in the area of government corruption."
Melamed said he is troubled with state control of the facility and the complexity of setting up an organized committee to control the casinos. He said he expects the casino will be difficult to control, adding that Kansas is the sole state that runs a casino, but that it is not mutually shared with a city. However, Melamed said he is open to revising the legislation and wants a Chicago casino to be flourishing but stressed that the large size of the proposed casino together with the decreasing demand for gambling facilities worries him.
"We do not want casinos to fail," Melamed said. "There are big questions concerning saturation in the Illinois gaming market and this is a big development."