My kind of life: Chicagoland gaming thrives in recession

Jan 1, 2002 12:27 AM


The current economic downturn from the events of Sept. 11 has not affected gambling in the Midwest. In fact, the Chicago area is raking in the money.

Through November, Illinois casinos earned $93 million more than during the same period last year. September and October revenue was up three percent from a year ago.

“Gaming’s been pretty recession-proof,” said Doug Ferrari, general manager of the Empress Casino in Joliet, where revenue is up $22 million so far this year. “Maybe it’s just the escapist angle. Where else do you go for $100 and $200 and forget all the bad news?”

Entertainment has also flourished during the past few months.

“An old gambler in Las Vegas told me years ago that during the Depression, no matter how bad things were, people always saved enough to go to the movies,” said Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., head of the American Gaming Association.

“Movies are an escape,” Fahrenkopf continued. “He (the gambler) was making the analogy that even in difficult times, people save their money for entertainment.”

Wisconsin retiree Pat Schmelz, 67, said she and her husband gamble about $2,000 during their twice-monthly casino visits.

“We don’t play golf, we don’t play tennis, we don’t hunt,” she said during a recent visit to Harrah’s Diamond Lounge in Joliet, Ill. “You have to have a little bit of entertainment.”

Choctaws make impact

The Choctaw Indians have made a $485 million construction impact on the Mississippi economy, according to a new study.

Mississippi State University, which conducted the report, noted that the Choctaws will create $18.7 million in state tax revenue. The tribe also contributed to the employment of 14,817 people by October and has an annual payroll of $356.8 million.

The Choctaws have plans for building a hotel and casino that could cost $750 million. The new casino, The Golden Moon, is located directly across from the tribe’s existing Silver Star casino and should open before October.

Also under construction is a 1,000-acre resort that will include three hotels and retail space that could bring as many as seven million additional visitors annually to the county.”

Cal slots on rise

Slot machines have more than doubled at California’s 46 Indian casinos tribal agreements with the state took effect last year.

Figures released by State Attorney General Bill Lockyer showed that there are 40,883 slot machines statewide, compared to 19,137 when gambling compacts started in May 2000 when voters amended the California constitution.

The latest figure represents a 62 percent jump since January when the last count was released.

Howard Dickstein, a prominent tribal attorney, attributed the increase to building expansions at the state’s casinos.

Video gaming ban

About half of Montana voters support a 2002 ballot issue to ban video gambling by 2006.

The poll, commissioned by the Billings Gazette, showed by 52 percent of the 625 registered voters polled said they back the measure, compared to 33 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided.

Taxes on video gambling raised about $41 million for Montana state and local government in fiscal year 2001, which ended June 30.

The chief advocates of legalized gambling, the Montana Tavern Owners Association, Gaming Industry Association and Montana Coin Machine Operators Association say they will oppose the measure.

Oregon mulls casino

The state of Oregon is considering plans for a casino to be built on a 100-acre site on tribal land east of Florence.

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior approving the Florence area site basically obligates the state to negotiate a gaming compact with the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw.

The tribe has sought for six years to establish a casino in Lane County, first in Springfield and later in Florence only to back off in the face of strong public opposition.

The proposed North Fork casino would cost $15-to-$20 million and provide 500 to 750 full-time jobs.

Issues to be addressed in the gaming compact include the widening of roads to improve a pending traffic problem.