Three years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel moved a legislative mountain, helping persuade Illinois lawmakers to give Chicago a city-owned casino under a compromise that also included four new casinos in other towns and video gambling at horse tracks.
Despite that plan’s promise of hundreds of millions of dollars to City Hall and the state, then-Gov.
Pat Quinn vetoed it, citing concerns about city ownership and gambling-industry contributions to politicians’ campaigns.
The city and state’s financial problems have only gotten worse since then.
So now Emanuel is back in the dealer’s chair, this time trying to sell legislators on a Chicago casino he wants to use to shore up the city’s severely underfunded police and firefighter pension funds.
Emanuel has personally discussed a proposed city casino with all four legislative leaders, as well as with Republican Gov.
Bruce Rauner and his staff, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times. Under Illinois law, the city expects to pay $839 million into its public safety pension funds next year, up $550 million from this year.
The talks have come as two legislative hearings on gambling expansion are scheduled in downtown Chicago over the next two weeks, with the first set for 10 a.m. In all, the city’s 2016 budget deficit stands at $300 million, leaving the mayor with few revenue-generating options short of a property-tax hike he’s trying to avoid.
State legislators — working under a May 31 deadline to wrap up the legislative session — are aiming to fill a $6 billion budget hole.
So they have as strong an incentive as Emanuel to use gambling to try to fill some of that void.
Still, history isn’t on the mayor’s side when it comes to getting a casino deal done.
Dozens of gambling-expansion bills have been offered and then fizzled out in Springfield in the past two decades.