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The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, is betting that a downtown casino would help boost the city's economy and fill holes in its budget. Illinois lawmakers approved a bill last month that would give Chicago its casino and add others around the state, but Democratic governor Pat Quinn is threatening to veto.
In the meantime, NPR's David Schaper reports that many Chicagoans are simply doing their gambling across the state line in Indiana.
DAVID SCHAPER: I'm walking through the massive parking garage of the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, just barely over the state line and a mere 15-mile drive from downtown Chicago. And I'm looking at the license plates and I see Illinois, Illinois, Illinois, Illinois. I would estimate at least 80 percent, if not more, of the cars here at this casino are from Illinois.
Mr. CARL SHARP: I see friends and family even out here.
SCHAPER: Carl Sharp says this Indiana casino is just a 15-minute drive from his South Side Chicago home. Even though he says it would take longer to get downtown, he'd go there to gamble if Chicago had its own casino.
Mr. SHARP: I'd like to see the tax money stay in Illinois, yes.
SCHAPER: You'd like to see some of your own money...
Mr. SHARP: Yeah, right, my own money, right.
Mayor RAHM EMANUEL (Chicago, Illinois): We have a casino in Chicago, it just happens to be in Hammond, Indiana, and we're losing that revenue.
SCHAPER: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he's not really a gambling enthusiast but says the city has much to gain from a casino.
Mayor EMANUEL: It will create somewhere between, they say, in all the studies, 7,000 to 10,000 jobs; somewhere between a $100 to $130 million in revenue a year.
SCHAPER: Talk about bringing a casino to Chicago goes back 20 years, since shortly after Illinois' legislature passed a law licensing 10 riverboat casinos around the state that exempted Chicago.
Lawmakers finally agreed to give Chicago a casino last month, but to placate downstate and suburban interests, the bill allows for four other new casinos, it allows for slot machines at horse racing tracks in Chicago's O'Hare and Midway Airports and at the state fairgrounds in Springfield, and it would let Illinois' existing casinos add hundreds of slot machines and craps, roulette and poker tables.
But such a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois concerns Governor Pat Quinn.
Governor PAT QUINN (Democrat, Illinois): I think most people in Illinois, average people, when they take a look at the size of this would say it's excessive, it's top heavy, it's too much.
SCHAPER: Quinn says he wants to carefully examine all 400 pages of the gambling bill, which is officially on hold now. Quinn says he'd be willing to allow a casino in Chicago, but he wants changes to the rest of the package. One of the legislative sponsors, Representative Lou Lang, isn't happy about that prospect.
State Representative LOU LANG (Democrat, Illinois): I've worked on this bill a long time. The negotiations were painstaking. It was difficult to put the right coalition together. And if you make significant changes to this bill, it may be difficult to pass a revised bill.
SCHAPER: Illinois' casinos generated $1.37 billion dollars for the state last year while Indiana's haul was almost double that according to Boston College economist Richard McGowan, author of a book on states and the gambling industry called "Dividing the Spoils."
Mr. RICHARD McGOWAN (Author, "Dividing the Spoils"): In a lot of ways, states become more addicted to gambling revenue than any gambler.
SCHAPER: And that's a problem, says McGowan, because he says gambling is not a consistent source of revenue, especially as neighboring states up the ante with one another in an effort to draw more gamblers.
Mr. McGOWAN: There's an arms race also that takes place on this between the states. And clearly in the Midwest, you're seeing that right now.
SCHAPER: And it's happening elsewhere, too. McGowan says New Jersey may soon legalize betting on sports in response to Pennsylvania, which has expanded gambling in recent years. Massachusetts may soon legalize casinos in a New England gambling war.
So McGowan says if Chicago gets its casino, Indiana will likely do something to respond and keep Illinois' gamblers and their money coming across border.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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