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Big obstacles remain to long-awaited casino in Chicago

Gamblers play the slots in July 2011 during a special VIP event at the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Illinois. Even though Illinois lawmakers have approved the construction of a casino in Chicago, the city has to overcome various obstacles before anyone can start placing bets. One of the biggest questions concerns finding ways to increase the project's likely profits. (Mark Welsh/Daily Herald via AP, File)

Gamblers play the slots in July 2011 during a special VIP event at the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Illinois. Even though Illinois lawmakers have approved the construction of a casino in Chicago, the city has to overcome various obstacles before anyone can start placing bets. One of the biggest questions concerns finding ways to increase the project’s likely profits. (Mark Welsh/Daily Herald via AP, File)

By SOPHIA TAREEN
Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Even with plans underway for a $405 million casino in Beloit, Chicago officials are preparing to roll the dice on having a casino inside city limits following Illinois lawmakers’ approval of such a project.

But obstacles remain. Namely, the city must still persuade state lawmakers to vote on a plan that officials say would increase the casino’s likely profits and to choose a site. Here’s a look at the questions ahead:

THE PLAN
Chicago is on track to become the largest American city with a casino, and any casino built in Chicago is likely to be gigantic. Lawmakers have given approval for the installation of as many as 4,000 gambling positions, slots or table seats. Although Chicago could use some positions for airport slots, a casino put up in Chicago could still easily rival those found on the Las Vegas Strip. Caesars Palace and Aria have roughly 1,500 slots each.

Details for the casino — including its location and design— are unknown. A required feasibility study in August evaluated five sites outside downtown, including a former U.S. Steel plant site, but recommended one close to the city’s center.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says downtown is still in play. The sites often discussed include the state-owned James R. Thompson Center and the McCormick Place building.

Legislators also approved plans to open five other casinos, allow sports betting and the installation of additional slots at horse tracks and Illinois’ existing 10 casinos.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the proposals into law during the summer to provide a source of money for a $45 billion capital plan. Chicago plans to use the resulting profits to pay down pension debt.

THE DRAW
Experts say casinos can have two big benefits for cities: economic growth and tax revenue.

Chicago leaders have long found both prospects alluring.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley floated a plan in the early 1990s for a $2 billion city-owned casino complex that would offer entertainment for families. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed various proposed remedies for the city’s financial troubles.

Lightfoot has said building a casino could be a way to boost economically depressed neighborhoods and to bring about long-term financial stability. The City Council recently approved her proposed $11.65 billion budget, which would rely on several one-time funding sources, including $215 million from debt refinancing.

THE COMPETITION
Illinois isn’t the only state trying to win big.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a plan this year that will, among other things, allow two Gary casino boats on Lake Michigan to move to land sites and help open another casino in Terre Haute. He said Gary — 30 miles from Chicago — would “absolutely” compete with Illinois casinos.

“It will be on a perfect thoroughfare, and I predict that we’ll exceed expectations as they are right now,” Holcomb said over the summer.

Rockford officials have also kept a close eye on the Wisconsin border, where plans are underway for the $405 million casino in Beloit.

WHAT’S AHEAD
Even without the legislative delays, a ribbon cutting will take a while.

The Illinois Gaming Board has a year to review applications and conduct background checks before issuing licenses. In Chicago, there’ll have to be local location approval and public hearings. Then construction can begin.

“Gaming is a very complicated issue and it always has been,” Rita said. “Everybody wants to get it up and running right away and make sure they do it right.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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