a pile of playing cards with the king of diamonds and the queen of spades visible on top
With the new casino coming to Chicago, will higher taxes be in the cards? Credit: Cullen Jones/Unsplash

As I lay in bed drenched in sweat, battling COVID, it came to me as in a fevered dream . . .

The city council had overwhelmingly approved Mayor Lightfoot’s idea to spend untold millions on a casino.

Even as Alderperson Brendan Reilly warned them that it may wind up being as bad as the hated parking meter deal from 2008. And Reilly should know—as he was fooled into voting for the parking meter sale.

When I got over my COVID—yes, folks, I’m feeling better—I realized it had not in fact been a dream. It was reality. The council approved the casino on May 25 by a vote of 41-7.

And ever since I’ve been wondering—is this deal actually as bad as the parking meter one?

At first I thought—no, nothing could be that bad. For one thing, only five alderpeople voted against the parking meter deal. So you can argue we’ve made progress with those two extra no votes.

But upon reflection, I’ve concluded that in some ways it’s worse.

As evidence (and comic relief), let me introduce as exhibit A a column about gambling by Steve Greenberg of the Sun-Times. But before I do that . . . 

Listen, I realize it’s hard to top the parking deal for awfulness.

At Mayor Daley’s insistence, the City Council voted to borrow over a billion dollars from a consortium of wealthy investors.

In return, Daley and the council agreed to give those investors the proceeds from the parking meters for the next 75 years. Meaning . . . 

We got a little more than a billion. And they will get . . . who the hell knows? Six billion. Seven billion. Ten billion. I’m not sure I’ll be around in the year 2083 to find out.

Say what you will about the casino, I don’t think it will divert that much money from our coffers.

Plus, the casino must be built. So construction workers will get jobs.

And the casino will need employees, so people will get jobs. Let’s hope those people are Chicagoans. Though so far there is no residency requirement.

On the other hand, the casino deal shares this awfulness with the parking meter deal:

The mayor rushed it through the council, who barely had time to know what they were voting on.

There was no independent cost-benefit analysis. So we don’t know what the casino will cost, which means we have no idea how much of a profit it will yield, if it yields one at all.

In fact, the Lightfoot administration still hasn’t told us how many public dollars will be spent building the casino. At the moment, they’re sorta pretending there will be no public cost. A proposition I find very difficult to believe.

Moreover, Mayor Lightfoot used some of the same hard-sell tactics as Mayor Daley did with the parking meter deal.

Back in 2008, Mayor Daley told us we needed to sell the meters to offset a property tax hike.

Then he hiked our property taxes anyway.

Similarly, Mayor Lightfoot and her City Council allies—chief among them Alderperson Walter Burnett—say they need to bring in casino revenue to offset a property-tax hike.

They say they needed the casino revenue to fortify the police and fire pensions.

Then they conceded that the casino’s revenues “only will be a drop in the massive bucket the city needs to fill each year in order to pay for the pensions,” as Becky Vevea and Mariah Woelfel of WBEZ put it.

So your property taxes will go up anyway—just like with the parking meter deal.

Having said all that, why do I conclude the casino is worse? Because we should know better.

In many ways, Chicagoans lost their virginity—politically speaking—with the parking meter deal.

Back in the Daley years, there were a few of us pointing out the city was run by scammers, who feed bullshit to the public. But generally, we were a bunch of lefties on the fringe.

For the most part, Chicago voters were true believers—couldn’t even imagine voting for anyone other than their beloved Mayor Daley.

If you criticized him, they told you to leave. Preferably to Detroit, which was positioned as what Chicago would be without Mayor Daley.

But with the parking meter it was undeniable that the city was run by scoundrels. And almost every alderperson vowed never to fall for such chicanery again. And now here we are 14 years later falling for it—again!

There’s another way the casino deal is worse.

A casino is set up to make sure its patrons lose. The more money they lose, the more money the casino takes. And ultimately the more money gets paid to the city.

So we’ve linked our economic future to soaking the saps who throw away their money at a casino. And that brings me to Steve Greenberg’s column.

It’s about a different kind of gambling—sports betting. But it’s the same basic point—the system’s set up so that gamblers lose.

Using a recently published survey of gamblers, Greenberg writes:

“This is kind of scary: 39% admitted they typically risk 50% or more of their monthly take-home income in total wagers. What are they doing with the other half, sewing $20s into kites?” 

And . . . 

“Meanwhile, 60% of respondents said they bet on sports to earn extra income. Similarly effective ways of doing that: playing the lottery, investing in your cousin Earl’s latest cryptocurrency and chucking your piggy bank into a wood chipper.”

And . . . 

“Quick question: Are all sports bettors full of it or just most of them? Because 75% of respondents reported breaking even and 24% claimed they win at least 75% of the time. Do you know who wins 75% of the time? No one you’ve ever met or ever will meet.”

Finally . . .

“On the other hand, only 11% answered that they win ‘rarely.’ One only can assume they’ve been betting on the Cubs.”

Very funny column, Steve Greenberg. Unfortunately, when it comes to the casino, Chicago, the joke is on you.

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Footing the bill

No matter what the city says, you can be sure the casino will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

A bad hand

Depending on a casino to pay our pension obligations is the second-dumbest idea of this century.