On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed two Chicago casino options to Illinois legislators: A public structure that would be split between the city and state or a more traditional privately owned casino.
For either casino option to benefit the operator(s), the mayor is looking at Illinois lawmakers to approve lower taxes than those written into a recent bill. Lightfoot is presenting her casino proposals ahead of the lawmakers’ fall veto session that begins at the end of October and she’s giving them two options. She hopes one of those ideas will help solve the tax issue.
The Prairie State currently has 10 casinos. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 690 in June, expanding the state’s casino and sports gambling law.
The bill extends the state’s limit for gambling halls to allow six additional casinos, including a Chicago mega-casino. While a Chicago-based casino sounds exciting, the process to launch one has been anything but.
In July, the Illinois Gaming Board commissioned a study by Union Gaming Analytics to analyze five proposed sites and help figure out exactly where the Chicago mega-casino should be. The study instead concluded that none of the sites were practicable for a casino because of the extreme taxes placed in the bill by the Illinois General Assembly, making it very difficult for an operator to turn a profit.
Mayor Lightfoot expressed concern over the taxes before the study results were even revealed. She is now hoping that the taxes will be reduced, especially if the would-be Chicago casino were to fall under private ownership.
Democratic House Majority leader Greg Harris said that Mayor Lightfoot will have difficulty in getting taxes reduced, the Chicago Tribune reported. Creating a casino in the Windy City will likely remain an uphill battle because the tax structure in Bill 690 for the six new structures is also part of the package for Illinois’ 10 current casinos.
If the hefty tax structure remains part of the gambling expansion bill, it will be very difficult to entice a private owner to invest in a casino in Chi-Town, or anywhere in the state for that matter. The Arlington International Racecourse, in Arlington Heights, recently decided to not pursue a casino license because of what officials there considered the “very onerous” tax structure.
Lightfoot went so far as to release an anonymous survey among Chicagoans to gauge their interest in and concerns about a proposed Chicago casino project.
While a Chicago-Illinois joint operation appears to be a possible solution, lawmakers have ethical concerns over the state and city entering the casino business together. A spokeswoman for the Pritzker administration, Emily Bittner, said that the governor remains open to making a Chicago casino successful but wants to make sure that the administration understands the challenges of public ownership.
It doesn’t look too hopeful that an agreement could be finalized during the General Assembly’s fall veto session. However, the gambling expansion law’s chief House sponsor, State Rep. Bob Rita, did not rule it out. Rita said that the clock is running but that there’s time left to get the Chicago casino tax structure finalized.