Editorial: Chicago casino shouldn't get special break

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

It seems like such a simple idea: Build three new casinos in Illinois, allow existing casinos to offer more places to play and use all that new money to finance a $25 billion capital construction program.

Things are never simple in Illinois politics.

The Illinois Senate approved a long overdue capital construction program in September. The House has yet to act on it. There appears to be little desire by representatives to increase gambling.

Then what? There’s no other funding mechanism on the table. The state has not had a capital plan since Gov. Rod Blagojevich took office, and the state’s roads, bridges and school buildings continue to deteriorate.

Even if the House follows the Senate’s lead, there may be complications.

One of the three new casinos, the one we think makes the most sense, would be in Chicago. A Chicago casino is the only one we think would bring new money into the state. It would draw tourists and conventions, while the other two casinos would be recycling the gambling money that’s already being spent in Illinois.

But a Chicago casino might come with strings attached. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who has supported casino efforts in the past, seems a bit cool to this idea.

Late last year Daley said a casino for the city was "not on our priority list." Even though it wasn’t on the mayor’s list, it’s on the state’s list to help pay for the construction program.

Daley doesn’t want to pay the $800 million license fee, one of the sure sources of revenue for the state. He has good reason. An analysis by Crain’s Chicago Business shows that if the Chicago casino generates $1 billion in revenue, the city would only get about $150 million because of taxes, operating costs and other fees. The license fee would further cut into that profitability.

Daley has every right to seek the best deal for his city, but waiving the license fee is not in the best interests of the rest of the state. If Chicago’s fee is waived, then the other two casino sites are likely to ask that their fees get waived also. That would be $1.2 billion kept from the state treasury and might mean the capital plan would have to be scaled back.

After five years, the state can’t afford to wait or to approve a lesser plan.

-- Rockford Register Star