illinois Digital News

How casinos broke their promises to the struggling downtowns of Illinois


The Chicago Tribune

Back in 1992, William Weidner, then president of Hollywood Casino of Aurora Inc., set out to Springfield to kill then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s plans for a $2 billion mega-casino in downtown Chicago.

Weidner and other members of what was known as the “riverboat alliance” were worried that any such facility in Chicago would suck away business from their nascent riverboat casinos in Aurora, Joliet, Elgin and other communities downstate. This was an act of self-interest. But that wasn’t the language Weidner used.

Instead, he argued that any such casino would run contrary to the intent of the Illinois legislature, which had justified its approval of gambling in Illinois by arguing that these new riverboats would revive the downtowns of communities that were demonstrably struggling with de-industrialization and other economic shifts.

The riverboats were supposed to bring people back to these downtowns and, Weidner argued, if Chicago was allowed to big-foot the whole enterprise, the revitalization of these former industrial cities would either be halted or diminished.

Weidner and his group prevailed.

All of that is over now.

Illinois casinos, it seems, have become like NFL franchises, supremely skilled at lobbying and dangling the promise of revenue to cash-strapped cities but on their own ever-changing terms.

Was the Hollywood Casino good for downtown Aurora? It’s debatable. The charming riverwalk got finished and area landscaping improved. The Paramount Theatre came back to life, but on its own merits. And on a recent Sunday night, those new restaurants in downtown Aurora were either closed or mostly empty. The action, it felt, had shifted elsewhere.

There’s a cautionary tale here. Casinos change the rules as they chase more money. Chicago has already seen a fascinating shift within its own new long-awaited casino. The city initially announced it had selected Bally’s as the entity with which it was doing business and touted the likely rapid approval by the Illinois Gaming Board, due to Bally’s existing presence in the industry.

The gaming industry has evolved since the 1990s. Most notably, sports betting has exploded, and now casinos find themselves subject to many of the same pressures as office buildings downtown. They have to persuade gamblers that they’re enough of a good time to get them to come to a central facility rather than merely getting their gambling fixes on their phones.

Millions of dollars have been made in Illinois in this industry over the past two decades, and politicians have not always been ahead of the curve. We’ll just reiterate two abiding truths.

Outside of Las Vegas, at least, casinos are fickle entities that cannot revitalize cities on their own.

And they will promise the moon and then ask for the stars.

Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.