Haggling over legislation to bring a casino to Chicago has become a springtime ritual. This time around, state Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, has dealt out two new amendments that just might get the job done.
To our way of thinking, that’s welcome news, but only if the talks in Springfield have no influence on City Hall’s continued efforts to sharply reduce costs, especially the costs of pensions. Chicago’s finances are in dire straits, and a casino — years down the road, if ever — promises at best a relatively shallow pot of gold.
The Legislature has twice passed gambling bills, but both were vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn. Last year’s version never made it as far as Quinn’s desk. But Rita has been holding meetings since summer and full-fledged hearings since January to try to shape a bill that can actually pass. His latest two amendments, floated at a hearing on Wednesday, both would give Chicago a casino.
The narrower version would provide for a single Chicago casino that could be the largest in the world, with revenues divided between the city and state. The broader plan would add four other casinos in southern Cook County, Lake County, Vermilion County and Winnebago County, as well as slot machines at most horse-racing tracks. Chicago’s casino under that scenario would be smaller, with a maximum of 4,000 positions instead of 10,000.
We’d be fine with a Chicago-only plan, because the city, which already draws many visitors, is the best place in the state to plunk down a new casino — or any casino. A city casino would not only encourage current visitors to spend more money while they are here, but also draw additional travelers and conventioneers, people who would spend money in restaurants, hotels and stores.