One Lawmaker Thinks O’Hare Airport Needs A Casino

O'Hare airport terminal

Mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy vouched for a land-based casino as part of the new expansion plan at O’Hare Airport in a local interview over the Easter weekend.

“The issue with a casino in the city, my understanding, was all of the problems it causes in the community. How about we put a casino in O’Hare Airport where now it’s for travelers coming through and it’s not going to affect the community, and anybody who goes there has to go through TSA?”

Already, the City Council approved an $8.5 billion revamp. That includes a new global terminal, new concourses, and 25 percent more gate capacity, reported the Chicago Sun-Times.

McCarthy told WBBM-AM radio program, “At Issue,” that a casino could eliminate problems of crime. Additionally, it establishes a controlled area and generates revenue while travelers wait at the gates for their flights.

Not a new suggestion made by Chicago mayors

Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired McCarthy, the then-police superintendent, in late 2015. A Chicago-based casino is not out of the question, even from the incumbent.

He suggested in the past for flexibility in casino gambling, predominantly slots, at O’Hare International and Midway airports, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago casino proponents face opposition from existing casino owners and from Springfield. Existing casino owners already see the betting revenue tapering off. Meanwhile, Springfield vetoed gambling expansion packages included a Chicago casino.

Emanuel has hinted at a downtown casino location for video gambling in Chicago.

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McCarthy convinced of revenue potential

While Rivers Casino is nearby to the airport, McCarthy reiterated that the O’Hare crowd would only bring travelers.

Pat O’Connor, the mayor’s city council floor leader, said a gambling proposal for transients defeats the purpose of enlivening a community’s businesses with the extra traffic. Thus, he said the income won’t be as consistent because there won’t be a crowd.

O’Connor also disputed McCarthy’s position on crime reduction. He added that McCarthy did not entirely think this plan through.

“That becomes a nightmare. … All you need to do is travel in and out of O’Hare on a regular basis and you know that it’s way too crowded to be able to have people sitting around playing cards and dice and blackjack,” O’Connor said to the Chicago Sun-Times.

20 years and no casino results

Illinois currently has 10 casinos. The state also allows video game terminals at over 5,000 bars, restaurants, truck stops, gas stations, and casino cafes across the state.

Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, filed a bill to build a commercial casino with a four-year operator license and as many as 4,000 slot machines and table games (House Bill 5146). The city would create the Chicago Casino Development Authority to oversee the casino.

Mayfield wasn’t confident about moving this bill this year. Dozens of gambling expansion bills for Chicago casino projects have failed over the past two decades. This includes a revised bill with online gambling.

Even so, Mayfield will continue to push for a casino if only for the potential tax revenue. Indiana and Wisconsin currently reap the benefits just next door. Horseshoe Casino Hammond is 20 minutes outside Chicago. Four Winds Casino is in South Bend.

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

Katie Callahan

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Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.