Illinois’ gambling revenue chase closes in on Chicago casinos

Illinois’ gambling revenue chase closes in on Chicago casinos

Chicago is getting closer to getting a casino, but more ways and places to gamble do not necessarily mean more state revenue. Illinois would be better off betting on pension reform.

Illinois state gaming regulators narrowed the field from four bids to two for a single casino license in Chicago’s south suburbs: one proposal near the border of Homewood and East Hazel, the other in Matteson.

Alabama-based Wind Creek Hospitality is leading the Homewood bid. Hinsdale businessman Rob Miller is leading the Matteson bid, along with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Illinois Gaming Board rejected pitches for Calumet and Lynwood in a 4-0 vote. The Calumet bid was backed by two-sport star Bo Jackson and suburban entrepreneur Dan Fischer.

The new casino is one piece of the gambling expansion Gov. Pritzker signed into law in 2019 that promised six new casinos in addition to Illinois’ existing 10. State regulators are also looking at finalists for a casino in Waukegan.

Illinois casino revenue has been on the decline since 2015, according to state data. Mobile sports betting and video gaming have put brick-and-mortar casinos in a bind. Gaming revenue in 2020 took a serious downturn as casinos were closed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pandemic mandates.

Illinois has long looked to gambling as a revenue quick-fix, but after saturating the market it finds itself chasing diminishing returns. Rather than seeking more gambling revenue, state leaders would be better-served by controlling the spending side.

Nothing drives’ Illinois’ fiscal woes like its public pension liabilities, which consume 25% of the state’s operating budget. Despite pouring money into pensions, the debt continues to grow and lead the nation at $144.4 billion by the state’s estimate, but by $317 billion using more realistic calculations.

Pension reform, through an amendment to the Illinois Constitution, is the surest way to fix state finances.

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