November 28, 2005

Let’s consider a casino in Chicago

How come every time I am trying to find the Bears highlights, I can only find middle-aged men playing poker? Now, I see nothing wrong with poker, but it just seems to be everywhere. Additionally, there has been no shortage of literature (or personal experiences) that point to the increasing popularity of the game. The interest in poker, and gambling overall, is a movement that the City of Chicago should embrace as a tool for future development.

Whether it is Native Americans on reservations or Steve Wynn in Las Vegas, gambling’s prominence produces debate on a national scale. Chicago has not been immune from this controversy. You cannot miss the eyesore that currently exists just east of O’Hare International Airport in the form of the Emerald Casino. This uncompleted rusty steel structure has been sitting untouched for years, as the State of Illinois, the Emerald Casino Inc., and previously the Isle of Capri Casino Inc., have battled over the legitimacy of the facility’s gambling license. Despite having cheesy names, the Emerald and Isle of Capri are also believed to have connections to organized crime, hence the attacks by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Instances such as the eyesore in Rosemont, the facilities in downtrodden Gary (frequently called Buffington Harbor for advertising purposes), and Joliet may not be sparkling examples of the gaming industry; however, a casino in Chicago needs to be seriously considered. As Chicago continues to battle other cities across the country for convention traffic and tourist dollars, the idea of a centrally located casino is becoming more and more of a necessity. Until recently, New Orleans had benefited tremendously from the Harrah’s Casino that existed in its central business district, and mentioning the growth of Las Vegas is common knowledge. As is clearly shown by success stories and the contrasting disasters that have been related to establishing casinos, there is no doubt that if Chicago was to move forward with a casino it would have to tread lightly.

To reap the full rewards of legalized gambling in Chicago, I believe the city must allow a casino to develop in a single well–placed, high–volume location. As opposed to allowing hotels to operate casino concessions within their facilities, the single site would allow for ultimate regulation and tight city control. When most think of casinos, they immediately picture bright lights and gaudiness, but that is not necessarily the case. Cities such as Melbourne, Australia, with its Crown Casino, have produced gaming institutions that are classy and add to the fabric of the metropolis. Casinos are about more than just gambling; they are shows, fairs, and well–coordinated entertainment developments. If such a facility was placed in Navy Pier (where the Chicago Children’s Museum is soon to vacate) or the rarely used McCormick Place Lakeside Center, it could be a major boon for the City. Benefits of such an establishment within the city only begin with the expected $250 million annual revenue for the city. That does not even touch upon the possible economic development and extra jobs that would be produced in the hospitality industry.

There are those who argue that the establishment of a casino within Chicago would hurt the moral fabric of our city by encouraging gambling. Others claim that casinos would hurt the convention industry by scaring away the trade shows that focus upon doing business and that these shows do not want such a diversion from their fairs. Both of these arguments are baseless and unfounded.

Those who believe that a casino would attract “undesirables” to the city and hurt those who have a weakness for gambling must look at how gambling already is accessible to all of Chicagoland. Whether it is casinos just over the Skyway or racetracks throughout the metropolitan area, Chicagoans are not at a loss for places where they can gamble, not to mention online gambling. The addition of a casino to central Chicago would not detract from the gambling that already occurs, yet it would make sure that a certain part of the revenue stays in Chicago instead of Indiana.

Additionally, entertainment venues should not be viewed as distractions from a business atmosphere. Simply look at Orlando, a city that is based around entertainment, and the high convention traffic that it enjoys. A casino attached to a convention center, such as one at the McCormick Place Lakeside Center, would perhaps be a distraction; however, even that problem could easily be solved by making casino promotions favor times when conventions are not in session. An idea such as five dollars in free chips after six in the evening with the presentation of a convention pass would induce conventioneers to work during the day and play during the night. Although, even without a casino, any die-hard gambler can sneak away from his conference and waste time at an off-track betting facility. The fact remains that conventioneers attend fairs to improve their businesses; whether or not they pick up good ideas has nothing to do with the presence of a casino.

As Chicago continues to grow as an international city it will need to add to its entertainment possibilities. With the increased popularity of gambling, a casino presents the perfect opportunity for increased tourism and municipal revenue. Those who oppose such a project must note that if Chicago does not get a casino, other cities will take advantage of the situation and steal conventions that could aid our city’s development.