Why There Is Still Hope For A Casino In Chicago’s Skyline

Written By Martin Derbyshire on February 22, 2018 - Last Updated on July 6, 2022
Cloud Gate sculpture at Millenium Park

Illinois lawmakers are continuing to push for construction of a casino in the city of Chicago. Even though more than twenty years of trying have not provided any results.

The latest effort is being spearheaded by Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, who has filed a bill that would allow a gaming company to build a commercial casino in the Windy City. House Bill 5146 would authorize the issuance of a four-year a casino operator license for a gambling operation inside the city with as many as 4,000 slots and table games. It would also create the Chicago Casino Development Authority to oversee the casino.

Of course, Rep. Mayfield sponsored a bill in 2017 that would have authorized casinos in Chicago and other suburbs of the city. The bill was approved by the Illinois Senate. However, Rep. Mayfield refused to call the bill for a vote in the House on the final day of Spring legislative session last year, claiming it needed changes.

Keeping hope for a Chicago casino alive

Now, Rep. Mayfield is telling global gambling industry intelligence provider Gambling Compliance (paywall) her latest Chicago casino bill is more of an effort to keep hope alive for the project during an election year, where it has little hope of passing:

“I’m not sure we can move it this year with all the elections going on — there are so many moving parts but I wanted to do my best to keep it alive.”

Rep. Mayfield claims they had the votes to get a Chicago casino project approved last year, but the bill died in the House Gaming Subcommittee when the chairman of the committee chose not to call the bill.

Illinois currently has 10 casinos. Plus, it hosts a centrally run Video Gaming Terminal (VGT) system with more than 23,000 units operating at over 5,000 bars, restaurants, truck stops, gas stations and casino cafes across the state. There just isn’t any legal gambling inside Chicago, the state’s largest city and third-most populated in the country.

More than two decades without results

Of course, several members of the city council have been pushing for the city to lift its ban on VGTs for the past few years. Additionally, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has floated a plan for a city owned-casino in the past. Both efforts have proved ineffective thus far.

At the state level, dozens of gambling expansion bills that have included Chicago casino projects have failed over the past two decades.

The state came closest to making a Chicago casino a reality in 2012. The same year Illinois became the first state in the country to authorize online lottery ticket sales. It was also the year the state’s first VGT licenses were approved.

The House and Senate passed a major gambling expansion bill. It would have authorized casinos in Chicago and four other sites around the state, plus slot machine games at racetracks. However, then-Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed it. He claimed it including loopholes allowing mobsters in the business and not enough in the way of government oversight.

At the time, Mayor Emanuel said he and Quinn agreed it cannot take another 20 years of discussion to get a Chicago casino deal done. However, Quinn lost the Governor’s seat to Bruce Rauner in 2014.

A revised Chicago casino bill soon surfaced with online gambling attached. However, bills both with and without online gambling attached have gone no further.

Continuing Chicago casino efforts

Despite all the failed efforts in the past and the potential for any efforts to be stalled again this year, Mayfield told Gambling Compliance it is critical to keep pushing for a Chicago casino. Mostly because of all the potential tax revenue being ripped away by casinos in neighboring states:

“(Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is) running full buses out of my district — taking money out of my district.”

Indiana has the massive Horseshoe Casino Hammond, just 20 minutes outside of Chicago. Plus a new competitor has emerged in the new $355 million Four Winds Casino in South Bend. It hosts 1,800 gaming machines less than 100 miles from the city:

“Indiana is basically siphoning off of Illinois. If we were to open a casino in Chicago we could maintain our revenue, which is what we need. We definitely want a Chicago casino.”

Photo by RomanSlavik.com / Shutterstock.com

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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