Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Are casino “promises” causing suburbs to hold off on serious development?

Every time I pass the northeast corner of Cicero Avenue and 175th Street in suburban Country Club Hills (I have family that lives nearby), I can’t help but shake my head at the vast expanse of land that exists there.

Will people gamble their way into the red at this site?
That site has a large-scale strip mall that could grow into a shopping mall to its north, and Interstate 80 to the east. It is large enough that local officials say they’re saving it for the casino they want to develop.

THE ONE THAT would be the “south suburban” casino in the grand scheme of things by which Illinois state government ups the number of casinos operating in the state from 10 to 15.

Much of the attention on this issue has gone to the fact that one of the extra casinos would be placed in Chicago, and over whether a Chicago-based casino should be controlled by a city government agency (as in one whose director is picked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) rather than the Illinois Gaming Board that oversees all other casinos in Illinois.

At times, the idea of a south suburban casino seems like an afterthought.

Yet when I think of the concept, I can’t help but notice the number of communities that are basing their economic future on the idea of something that isn’t currently permitted under state law!

IT MAKES ME wonder how many legitimate development opportunities are being passed on (or not even being contemplated) because everyone is banking their future on the idea of getting a casino.

Made worse by the fact that, at best, ONE community will get the dream. While some half-dozen proposals (at least, more may develop as time passes) are being considered.

There are going to be a lot of losers.

What happens to those communities who, years from now, have nothing to show for their casino dreams other than vacant land plots? Such as that one on Cicero Avenue?

PERSONALLY, I DON’T think much of the whole casino concept. I always thought of them as being for communities that were incapable of getting anything else to locate within their boundaries.

Which makes me wonder if places like Country Club Hills or Homewood (my father and step-mother, who enjoy the casino atmosphere and live just a few minutes from the proposed sites on Cicero Avenue or Halsted Street), or others like Ford Heights, Calumet City or Lynwood (which would like to put a casino right on the Illinois/Indiana border) have any kind of back-up plan?

I have heard from various municipal officials whose complaints about casinos focus on state government for taking so ridiculously long (how many years has it been now?) to make a decision.

Because they feel it puts them on hold. They can’t possibly contemplate real economic development – something that creates jobs better than being a coat-room clerk or a valet parking attendant.

AS FOR THOSE who want to argue the merits of being a black-jack dealer, I don’t really want to hear it. There are higher aspirations in life than dealing cards, and I always wonder about a community that is willing to settle for less.

Because that’s what the whole casino campaign amounts to – communities putting bets on their future in hopes that they’ll strike it rich. When anybody with sense knows that the “house” always wins! As in the casino itself.

Everybody else ultimately comes out the loser. Sometimes, I think these suburban mayors would be better off buying a Mega Millions lottery game ticket.

With all the technicalities and legalese and complications in the process of the state creating a casino, I wonder if the odds are better that they’ll win the big jackpot – as opposed to someday getting a casino.


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