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Lightfoot picks five casino sites outside downtown

Wednesday, Jul 17, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The Tribune reports that Mayor Lightfoot has forwarded the locations of five potential Chicago casino sites to the new consultant

A state-hired consultant will study the economic feasibility of the sites and report its findings to the state and city. City officials stressed that the casino won’t necessarily wind up at one of the five spots, which it characterized as test sites.

The five are: “Harborside” at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway; the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue; a site at Pershing Road and State Street, which was formerly public housing; Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue; and the former U.S. Steel parcel, known as South Works, which is between 79th and 91st streets along South Lake Shore Drive.

The sites all have previously been considered for a casino or other large-scale developments, the city said.

Notably absent from the list were downtown sites, like the McCormick Place Lakeside Center and Navy Pier, which have been bandied about as possible casino locations by real estate experts and newspaper columnists. They argued that putting the casino downtown would maximize revenue and create the most jobs.

* Ed Zotti wrote about the topic this week

The first is the “island casino” model — the term used by Klebanow and Gallaway in their 2015 report. The casino and related activity — typically a hotel, restaurants and bars, shops, entertainment venues, other attractions and parking — are designed as a single, self-contained complex.

Patrons drive to the casino and don’t leave until they’ve spent their last dime hours later and drive home. They never set foot in the surrounding neighborhood and might as well have been visiting Madagascar. The great majority of U.S. casinos are designed this way, Klebanow and Gallaway found. […]

A casino on the South Side almost certainly would be an island-type facility. The Michael Reese site, among other drawbacks, is separated from downtown by the Stevenson Expressway. The benefit to the surrounding area would be zero.

An island casino might retard redevelopment, suggesting the neighborhood is a dumping ground for uses nobody else wants.

A downtown location would require skillful planning and execution but have greater potential upside. It would check most of the boxes Klebanow and Gallaway cite as “critical success factors for the modern urban casino” — among them a pedestrian-friendly environment, proximity to an existing entertainment/dining district and good transit and highway access.

* Back to the consultant

Union Gaming Analytics was selected from among three bids, two of which were disqualified because they submitted after the application deadline, the gaming board announced Friday.

Those late bids came in along an aggressive timeline set under the massive gambling expansion signed into law June 28. The state missed its first deadline by four days under that legislation, which had required that a consultant be selected by Monday.

The gaming board is still aiming to stay on track with the legislative timeline, despite the initial hiccup that officials chalked up to state procurement regulations.

That is about as “Illinois” as you can get.

* Meanwhile, in Waukegan

As the city of Waukegan extends the deadline for interested casino developers to submit their proposals, the would-be developers behind Waukegan’s 2009 effort claim the city cannot contractually go with anyone but them.

The fight centers on a 2004 redevelopment agreement in which the city granted Waukegan Gaming LLC, then under a different name, the “exclusive right” to develop and operate a casino in Waukegan.

The last casino license Waukegan Gaming LLC was vying for ultimately went to Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, in part over concerns raised by the Illinois Gaming Board about the firm’s ties to William Cellini, a political insider indicted on a pay-to-play scheme. […]

The initially short deadline and the long list of requirements was “drafted to discourage not encourage competing proposals,” according to Waukegan Gaming’s draft counter-complaint. “It was designed to ensure that the City would support and approve only one bidder.”

That bidder, the firm argues, is Bond, a former state senator who now owns a video gambling operation with a heavy presence in Lake County.


* Related…

* Illinois gambling expansion could take a while. Here’s a look at what’s to come.

* Seven groups interested in building casino in Danville; proposals due July 31: Foster also questioned the mayor about the preferred site, located along Interstate 74 near the Indiana border and Lynch Road. Some have wondered why a downtown location wasn’t given top billing, he added. Williams said that because of the tight timeline to submit a final casino development package to the Illinois Gaming Board — about 100 days from now — a site has to be shovel-ready.

* Hard Rock announces casino proposal for Rockford; further details forthcoming

* Business leaders react to Hard Rock Casino Gary: ‘It’s going to be huge’


  1. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:38 pm:

    Re Waukegan: ==the would-be developers behind Waukegan’s 2009 effort claim the city cannot contractually go with anyone but them.==
    No statute of limitations on this? I thought the statute of limitations on written contracts was ten years.

  2. - thechampaignlife - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    These tight deadlines are not in the public interest. Maybe the cities should spin up a temporary casino at minimal expense while they work on the more thoughtful plan for the final location.

  3. - Bruce (no not him) - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:43 pm:

    “We don’t want any tourism dollars. Put the casino somewhere the tourists don’t want to go.”

  4. - Montrose - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    The analysis about island casinos is really interesting. I understand and appreciate the desire to address equity issues by putting the casino in a non-loop location. It seems like the reality is that the multiplier effects that people will assume come to these locations just don’t happen.

    That’s not to discount the value of putting a major employer in any of these neighborhoods. That is huge and needed. We just should have realistic expectations about what the casino will mean for economic development.

  5. - Former State Worker - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:55 pm:

    These locations are terrible. You’re just fleecing impoverished residents out of money instead of tourists.

  6. - Real tooth - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:57 pm:

    The chicago casino will never be built

  7. - serious - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    I get that Lightfoot has to show that she isn’t Rahm and she cares about the neighborhoods. But these sites are just bad.

    I’ve never heard them described as “island casinos” before, but it’s spot on. Any casino on the South Side is gonna be more or less hermetically sealed. It’ll have dedicated parking facilities and its own restaurants. People will drive in, empty their pockets, and drive out.

    The only foot traffic such a casino will draw will be the neighborhood people. And do we really want the casino to be drawing a lot of poor people who can ill afford to lose rather than comparatively well-off tourists and conventioneers?

  8. - OutOfState - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:05 pm:

    If the city and state are looking to raise money on people losing their money, they need to be careful that they’re only encouraging the people with the financial ability to gamble to do so, especially if the economic development “ripple effect” of a casino would be minimal in an underdeveloped area.

    I think the best plan would be to locate the casino within easy access to public transit for communities looking to gain an employment boom. Make it harder to habitually gamble but easy to commute. That would have the added bonus of making the casino more easily accessible to tourists and the other well-off patrons.

  9. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:07 pm:

    What @Montrose at 12:51 p.m. said.

  10. - City Zen - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:08 pm:

    Michael Reese provides the easiest access for conventioneers. If we’re trying to capture “new” money, this makes the most sense.

    Harborside has the advantage of an onsite golf course, but anything too far south gets you competing with the casinos of NW IN.

    Roosevelt and Kostner? Not bloody likely. Seems like a token choice for the West Side.

  11. - A guy - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:10 pm:

    Agree with Zen here. The only one that makes a little sense is the Michael Reese property. And even that one doesn’t make much sense if the goal is to get customers. Access needs to be priority 1.

  12. - Red Ranger - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:13 pm:

    If tourists are interested in taking a bus or a $25 uber ride to a casino, they can already do that now; the Horseshoe is happy to take their money. Make this place as convenient and accessible to fleece as many tourists and suburbanites as possible.

  13. - Shytown - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:23 pm:

    South Works is a no go. No one will touch that site not knowing what the actual costs associated with environmental remediation might be - and they’re supposed to be high.

  14. - Roman - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:31 pm:

    I agree completely with Zotti. The casino should be put in a location where it can collect as much money as possible from as many out-of-towners as possible. None of those five sites will accomplish that.

  15. - Proud Sucker - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:34 pm:

    The Michael Reese site is across the Rock Island tracks from the McCormick Place truck marshaling yards. It is a 5-10 minute people mover ride from the West convention halls. It would close enough to be attractive to convention goers, but not too close to be a distraction.

  16. - Annonin' - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:41 pm:

    seems like anything south of McCormick Place or west of United Center probably misses the boat so to speak.

  17. - Because I said so.... - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    I thought the south suburbs were supposed to get a casino? Some of these locations would be in direct competition.

  18. - Responsa - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    I freely admit I’m not much into the concept of expanding gambling in the first place. But I can understand how this could be an added event for conventioneers in town –if casino is convenient to get to, and could thereby be a way to acquire needed revenue from people who are not Chicagoans. These sites are just horrible.

  19. - Grandson of Man - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 1:47 pm:

    I also agree that it’s best to be nearest to conventioneers, downtown and tourism (while being close to communities who need economic help). Chicago and Illinois, even with our problems, are setting tourism records. Let’s get as many of those tourist and convention dollars as possible.

  20. - Interested - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    Talk about awful site selections.

  21. - Honeybadger - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    Horrible choices. I would never visit any of those locations. Location, location, location has always been the key to success.

  22. - Benjamin - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 2:19 pm:

    I had been a big supporter of the Harborside site–the presence of the golf course suggested a kind of leisure nexus there–but Zotti makes a convincing case.

    Not quoted here is his suggestion that the Thompson Center building would be perfect for conversion to a casino. Of course, nothing also says “downtown” more than a building at the intersection of Clark and Randolph.

  23. - Regular democrat - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 3:02 pm:

    Nobody will go to roosevelt and kostner to gamble. These sights are absurd to put it mildly.

  24. - 10th ward - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 3:10 pm:

    Alderman King whose ward has the Michael Reese site has come out OPPOSED to a casino. I think Alderman Dowell whose ward adjoins the 4th is also opposed. HMMM? is MLL trying to show her alderman who is in charge? I mean why even add it to the list if two Alderman are opposed?

  25. - Dee4Three - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 3:42 pm:

    So are folks in the “what about the tourists camp” are basically opposed to anything South of Comiskey or West of the United Center because those areas are super scary?

  26. - Bobby Beagle - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 3:44 pm:

    Believe it or not the State/Pershing site isn’t terrible. It’s a 3-6 stop trip on the red or green line, 10 minute uber ride, and theres bus access. It’s directly off of 90/94 and pretty close to I55.

    There is room for adjacent development on neighboring empty lots. And I do believe it would boost the neighboring area a little, such as a lot of empty store fronts on State street. If you build it, they will come.

  27. - Amalia - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 3:54 pm:

    three of these sites are ridiculous…the two way south and the one in K town. I can’t even take any of those seriously. the two down south are too close to Indiana casinos. the one on the West side is remote and sketchy. The Michael Reese site is for tourists so that one makes sense. The one at State and Pershing, actually that one is truly different and interesting. there are anchors of the police department and IIT and the Sox nearby. at least that one has some community anchors and is not too far from downtown.

  28. - Shytown - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 4:07 pm:

    Also, while these sites are not really great, it seems that it’s designed to push people towards the Reese site, which is the only one that seems to make sense.

  29. - Simple Simon - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 4:19 pm:

    Dee4Three…don’t make it about racism. It is about success, and those dollars will come mostly from out of towners. Do you see lots of tourists at any of these locations now? You won’t see many more later, either, even with extreme measures. Seriously, where would you put a casino for maximum take? If you say something other than River North, Navy Pier, south Loop, West Loop, or United Center, you are being unrealistic.

    This is too big of an opportunity to squander since it could save the city’s finances, so go for maximum impact rather than social signaling without much gain due to the island locations.

  30. - Todd - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 4:46 pm:

    when we were dealing with “river boats” I though the best idea was to get a mothballed aircraft carrier and anchor it off of Navy peir. They are big, it would be novel and they have plenty of room

    still think its a neat idea

  31. - Dee4Three - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 4:57 pm:

    @SimpleSimon First off you are projecting, I didn’t mention race. I forgive you though :)

    Moving on, I think what’s important to think about is how you define “success”. I think there are significant limitations to defining success as putting the casino in a place that is adjacent to current tourism flow, as it exists now. There is a real advantage in trying to expand that strike zone. Growth is good.

    It is of note that Indiana enjoys relatively successful casinos that are located outside of smack dab in the middle of its biggest commerical district. Many other jurisdictions do the same.

  32. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 5:03 pm:

    ===Indiana enjoys relatively successful casinos that are located outside of smack dab in the middle of its biggest commerical district===

    1) Indiana has no commercial district to compare to Chicago’s Loop.

    2) Indiana depends on Illinoisans for income. They don’t drive to Indiana to hang out in Hoosiervilles. They go there to gamble.

  33. - Simple Simon - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 5:28 pm:

    Dee4Three…so “scary” neighborhoods have nothing to do with race in Chicago? Right. Please put down your dog whistle.

    I see your point about expanding the existing areas of economic development, but the study above suggests that those effects will be limited. Wouldn’t you rather have $300M in the city coffers than $100M? But I don’t live in Chicago, so it’s no skin off my tax bill.

    Finally, I suspect that the new Mayor, who campaigned in part on economic justice, needed to put out a list of sites in underdeveloped areas in her first major opportunity, even if none make the final cut, so this may be much ado about nothing, for now.

  34. - dave ristau - Wednesday, Jul 17, 19 @ 5:46 pm:

    BLOCK 38

  35. - Stuntman Bob's Brother - Thursday, Jul 18, 19 @ 12:09 am:

    Does the foundation for the “Chicago Spire” still exist? Because if people are going to throw their money into a hole anyway, may as well do it right.

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