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Neighbors fear Chicago casino

Nov 20, 2007 4:19 AM

Anyone doubting the saying that the early bird is the one who fills his belly should take a look at Illinois and its riverboat casinos.

For a dozen years, the cities of Joliet, Aurora and Elgin have reaped a harvest from the casinos operating within their borders. But those huge tax revenues could be in jeopardy if the state licenses a land-based casino in nearby Chicago.

For several years, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has been arguing for a casino license in order to generate much needed tax revenue both for his community and for the state coffers. So far, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. But, that may not last much longer.

A proposal before the Illinois legislature would authorize a casino license for Chicago as a way of funding the much-needed upgrade of the city’s transit system.

That’s enough to send shivers down he spine of city officials in Elgin, Aurora and Joliet.

"Whoa," says Mayor Ed Schock of Elgin which receives some $30 million a year from the casino. Any expansion of gambling in the state, says Schock, would depart from the original intent of legislation that allowed casinos in the first place. The intent being to encourage development in economically depresses areas, he said.

Elgin’s assistant city manager, Sean Stegall, estimates that a Chicago casino would cost Elgin about $10 million in taxes and fees from the Grand Victoria Casino, a property that was originally built by the Hyatt Corp.

Officials in Joliet say the city could lose 10 to 15% of the $14 million it receives annually from the Empress Casino, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN) and Harrah’s Joliet Casino, a Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) property, if Chicago gets a casino.

And Aurora officials have expressed concern that the $16 million it receives from Hollywood Casino would be strongly impacted. Hollywood Casino also is owned by Penn National.

Feeling pressure from Chicago Transit Authority unions, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has met with several legislative leaders to discuss the possibility of providing a casino license for Chicago as an aid to resolving the transportation problem.

Union leaders have threatened job actions should nothing happen between now and Dec. 31 when the union contract expires.