Chicago Alderman Beale Claims to Have South Side Casino Location, Interest From Two Gaming Companies

Alderman Anthony Beale, who represents Chicago’s ninth ward, says he has a location on the South Side that would be ideal for a casino and is urging Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) to alter the process the city is using to make a gaming project a reality.

Alderman Anthony Beale has a Chicago casino plan, but there’s already opposition to it. (Image: Chicago Sun-Times)

The site Beale is pitching is at at 103rd St. and Woodlawn Ave. and was not one of the five that was evaluated by Union Gaming Analytics (UGA) when the research firm recently conducted a feasibility study on potential Windy City casino locations.

Beale also claims that two gaming companies, which the alderman did not identify, are interested in a project at that site. Las Vegas Sands and Penn National Gaming, the largest casino operator in Illinois, said earlier this year they are not interested in competing for a gaming license the third-largest US city. A message to Beale’s office from Casino.org was not returned prior to press time.

The alderman’s plan of attack differs from what the city has been using to this point. Beale wants Chicago policymakers to solicit request for proposals (RFPs) from firms interested in the plan, chose one of those operators and then join forces with that gaming company to approach state lawmakers about seeking relief from the cumbersome tax structure that’s seen as stymieing the city’s casino effort.

I suggest that the city issue an RFP to solicit proposals from various operators and sites for a Chicago casino to be reviewed and sent forward to the Gaming Board by a panel of reviewers appointed by you and the City Council,” said Beale in a letter sent to Lightfoot on Tuesday.

The mayor is planning to address the tax issue with the state legislature during its fall veto session.

All About Taxes

Last month, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) passed a resolution urging lawmakers to reconsider the tax treatment of a Chicago casino so that the project can come to life. When factoring in a “privilege tax” assessment of 33.3 percent, any operator opting to do business in the city would face taxes of up to 72 percent of gross gaming revenue (GGR), diminishing the property’s profitability.

In its feasibility study, UGA said at that tax rate, a potential operator could find it difficult to obtain financing from lenders and even if it could get the project off the ground, the company would need to generate substantial non-gaming revenue to offset the hefty tax burden.

Lightfoot is hoping that a Chicago gaming property will plug firefighter and police pension shortfalls in the city’s budget, which she estimates to be $838 million.

A representative from her office said Chicago is continuing to engage lawmakers in Springfield (the state capital) “to revise the legislation.”

Opposition To Beale’s Plan

Beale’s effort, though still fresh, is already facing opposition. Alderman Scott Waguespack, who represents the 32nd ward, said the mayor needs to work with state lawmakers on the tax issue, get that fixed and then solicit RFPs.

“Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” said Waguespack in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. Picking one person right off the bat without knowing where that location is and what Springfield is gonna do would backfire. I don’t think you can do business that way.”

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