Editorial: Illinois should deal Rockford in for a casino expansion

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Better here than there.

Rockford once again is in the running for a new round of casino licenses. Our community should be a player.

We embrace this opportunity not because we see gambling as the holy grail of economic development, but if any community in Illinois should be able to expand its tourism and entertainment options, Rockford should. Better here than there.

The Editorial Board’s support of legalized gambling in the state is long-standing. It goes back to our fondness for the late E.J. “Zeke” Giorgi of Rockford, veteran Democratic lawmaker and the father of legalized gambling in Illinois. We bought into his thinking: that gambling would be a way to help economically disadvantaged communities in the state.

And what community meets the definition of economically disadvantaged better than Rockford? Our city consistently leads the state in unemployment. Still, we find ourselves being edged out again and again in the quest for a license — by communities like Rosemont (even though it ultimately lost its bid for the state’s 10th license in court).

We are not unrealistic about what a casino would bring to Rockford. It wouldn’t solve all our problems. It wouldn’t mean a massive infusion of revenue.

After all, even Las Vegas, gambling’s mecca, has seen declines in casino revenues for more than a year. Those declines are now into the double digits. In Illinois, gambling revenues are down, too, including a 19 percent decline in April from the same month last year for all nine riverboat gambling sites. Revenues have dropped for four straight months.

But a casino here will be building on the future. Eventually, the economy will rebound, and we need to be able to build on our tourism, sporting and entertainment options when that happens.

A study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center shows how well communities with casinos can do. The study found that hotels in communities with casinos have earnings 43 percent higher than communities without casinos. The study shows casino communities have better unemployment rates and 12 percent to 17 percent drops in welfare payments.

Gambling would be another thing to do. Another thing that Chicago suburban parents can do when they don’t want to watch their child’s 44th soccer game at a tournament at Sportscore. Or when travelers see “casino” on a sign off Interstate 90 and detour into Rockford for a quick game or two.

The Rockford area’s golf courses have long been known as a strong draw. Marketing studies show that golfers are heavy users of casinos as well. It would be a natural pairing.

Sen. Dave Syverson is a co-sponsor of a casino bill introduced Wednesday in the Senate. He’s a Republican and the other sponsor is a Democrat, so we’re hopeful there’s real bipartisan momentum behind this effort.

We also like Mayor Larry Morrissey’s approach to a Rockford casino license. He would like to see the city push for ownership of the casino so it can maximize profits, just like Chicago might have a shot at ownership. (Now, the casinos are operated by the Illinois Gaming Board, which determines the percentage of profits that communities can keep.)

In our proverbial quest for a casino license, we have appealed to House Speaker Michael Madigan. “Zeke” Giorgi was one of Madigan’s mentors. When Giorgi died in 1993, Madigan cried while he delivered the eulogy. Even though Giorgi was a key player in establishing 10 casino licenses in Illinois, Madigan was never able to deliver a casino for Rockford after Zeke’s death.

It is not too late.

As recently as 2002, Madigan said, “I’ve always enjoyed a real strong friendship with the city of Rockford.”

Show it, Mr. Speaker. Show us the license. Cut us in. Better here than there.

Rockford Register Star