image of joker representing chicago casino
You’re getting bamboozled by a bunch of jokers, Chicago! But I guess you’re used to that by now. Credit: Ryan Moulton / Unsplash

Now that Mayor Lightfoot has officially revealed the three finalists for Chicago’s casino, the bamboozling of the city will begin.

Oh, Chicago, you know you’re getting bamboozled. I think you sorta like it—a little attention from the boss. 

It’s like you matter as they try to win you over into supporting something you don’t really want or need. In this case—a casino. Like the one they have in Hammond. Don’t call us the second city!

If I were an old leftie, I’d say they’re manufacturing consent. Noam Chomsky coined that term for when the powers that be (mass media included) convince you to sign onto something that’s not really in your interests.

Actually, I am an old leftie. So let’s run with it.

You know the game by now. It starts with the mayor trying to build anticipation over the heated competition to see which site will be lucky enough to win the casino.

By the way, pretty much everyone I ask—and I ask everyone who comes on my podcast—thinks city leaders have already selected where the casino will go and the site-selection competition is just a ruse. And people say I’m cynical?

We played this game with Amazon a few years ago, when they created a nationwide competition between cities looking to win the right to pay for their headquarters. Somehow Amazon bamboozled city leaders throughout the country to fight over who got to give their tax dollars to Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest men.

The good news is that the casino bamboozle is not nearly as outrageous as Amazon’s. 

But it’s pretty offensive when our leaders tell us we absolutely, positively need this casino to pay our police and firefighter obligations.

I’d say that depending on casino revenue to cover pension obligations is the dumbest idea out of Chicago in this century, except . . .

Mayor Daley’s Olympic bid also occurred in this century. And nothing can be dumber than writing a blank check for an Olympics that would have sold away our parks for years.

If you recall, we were bamboozled into a breathless competition to win the 2016 Summer Olympics. The International Olympic Committee wound up going with Brazil—a clear case where we won by losing.

Depending on casino revenues to pay off pension obligations is a regressive and uncertain way to pay your bills. That’s because you’re relying on getting money from people who probably can’t afford to give it to you.

Casinos are set up to make sure the people who gamble there lose—that’s how casinos make their money. So we’d be paying essential obligations by squeezing people who can’t afford to be squeezed.

And we’re doing that because we’re apparently afraid of raising taxes on the wealthiest people in the state—who can afford to pay more to help cover our basic obligations.

But if we try to raise taxes on the wealthy, the wealthy will fight back by paying for commercials that trash the politicians who raised their taxes as tax-and-spend radical leftists, who are also soft on crime. Good luck getting elected with that label.

So we’re stuck with taxing vices like gambling and reefer. Don’t get me started on the latter. Cannabis is taxed so high—pun intended—that sales are starting to fall.

I’m pretty sure people are still consuming cannabis. They’re just buying it from their black-market dealers.

Now that I think of it—legalizing cannabis in order to raise money to pay our bills was the wrong reason to legalize it. We should have legalized it because it was unfair that Black people went to jail for doing something that white people freely do every day. We shouldn’t have worried about how much money it brought in.

Have you ever noticed that when our leaders actually do the right thing, they do it for the wrong reason?

Back to the casino . . .

City officials have not been upfront about how much it will cost the public to build the casino. But I think we all know that much of the money will eventually come from a TIF.

To refresh memory—that’s the infamous tax increment financing program, where the city slaps a surcharge on your property taxes in order to raise money to eradicate blight in a poor neighborhood. Though few of the neighborhoods that benefit the most from TIFs are poor.

That’s certainly not the case with the three sites in line to get the casino.

There’s One Central, a proposed megadevelopment that would be built over the train tracks just west of Soldier Field. The developer of that proposed project has been looking for a multibillion-dollar handout from the state.

The city says a casino can go there even without the handout from the state, which raises the question—why give the developer billions of dollars in the first place?

Another site is the Freedom Center printing plant on the near north side, not far from Lincoln Yards, which has already received a $1.3 billion TIF handout.

Putting the casino here means giving even more millions of public dollars to a community that was gentrifying even before Lincoln Yards, while the rest of the city collapses into a giant pothole. Hard to believe they’re so shameless as to even propose this site.

Finally, there’s the 78, the vast expanse of vacant land along the Chicago River just south of Roosevelt Road. I call that site Rezko Village in honor of Tony Rezko, the man who once owned it.

You may remember Rezko. Years ago, he went to federal prison after being convicted on various charges of fraud and corruption.

If this is where the casino goes, they should call it the Al Capone Casino at Rezko Village. It’s only appropriate that if we’re squeezing saps to pay our obligations, we name the casino for a gangster and a crook.

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