Don’t let taxpayers hold their pockets for a Chicago casino
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her staff at City Hall are weighing five proposals for the city’s first casino, looking ahead to the first quarter of 2022, with a final proposition to lay judges.
The selection of a finalist from the spectacular sounding pitches is made possible by the Gaming Act of 2019 and is considered to be one of the most momentous decisions that Lightfoot faces as mayor.
But as you and other city guides wade through the promises of prosperity, remember that the purpose of this momentous opportunity is to generate revenue for state and local governments. You should immediately rule out any proposals that depend on corporate welfare systems
At the moment only one suggestion seems to fit this bill: Hard Rock International.
Hard Rock’s suggestion of a casino in Chicago is strange on the surface. The company opened Hard Rock Northern Indiana Casino in nearby Gary in May, and another Hard Rock Casino is under construction in Rockford. Why would the company want to compete with itself by building a third casino in Chicago?
The answer is buried in the company’s statement that “Hard Rock International is thrilled to be participating in the RFP process to bring our unique brand of world-class entertainment to the city of Chicago at One Central.”
Trigger for massive tax subsidies
One Central is developer Bob Dunn’s dream to use 34 acres of valuable Chicago real estate west of Soldier Field for a mega mixed-use project. However, his dream requires $ 6.5 billion in government subsidies to come true. If that sum of taxpayer money were ever realized, it would be the largest corporate welfare program in US history and would exceed the total cost of all taxpayer-subsidized projects in the modern history of the state.
Dunn himself laid the groundwork for such a potential payout in 2019 with an 11-hour push to add special language to an Illinois spending bill that allowed the state to negotiate with its privately held Landmark Development, as well as the unprecedented state spending.
However, since then, Dunn’s proposal has hardly been addressed, so it’s no surprise that his company partnered with Hard Rock on the proposal and promised the casino would anchor the project. If Lightfoot opted for Hard Rock, it could trigger the massive tax subsidy required to build One Central.
Chicago mayors have owned a downtown casino for generations. With Lightfoot on the verge of breaking the bad luck of her predecessors, she has to focus on why she and the city guides were looking for a casino license in the first place.
Although the proposals differ in terms of location, investments, and launch speed, they are all expected to generate annual sales of $ 200 million. The income would be crucial to support the police and fire brigade pension funds, which have pension liabilities of € 11 billion.
The town hall should also not forget the intent of the state gambling law itself.
The state of Illinois is hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and is poised to become the first modern state with a junk bond rating.
The Game Expansion Act is designed to take the pressure off Illinois taxpayers and improve the state’s long-term financial health and creditworthiness – not bleeding out tax dollars as quickly as they are pouring in through multi-billion dollar treasury deals for private developers.
A casino looking to locate in Chicago for jobs and income should be encouraged to do so without the help of interest groups and without a whopping $ 6.5 billion from the hardworking Illinois taxpayers.
Brian Costin is the Assistant Secretary of State for Americans for Prosperity-Illinois.
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