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Chicago casino should go near Loop, not South or West Side

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The new mayor has tipped her hand as to where she'd like to place a casino in Chicago—and unfortunately for the city, it's possible she's going to make a bad bet.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration on July 17 released a list of five sites it wants to explore as possible locations for the city-owned casino approved in the last round of budget negotiations in Springfield. All five are in outlying and economically depressed South and West Side neighborhoods. Each has been the focus of one sort of prospective development or another. None is in or near downtown.

On the shortlist: the former Michael Reese Hospital complex at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue; the former U.S. Steel parcel at 80th Street and the lake; property that now adjoins the publicly owned Harborside golf course at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway; former industrial property on a 23-acre North Lawndale site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue; and 19 vacant acres owned by the Chicago Housing Authority at Pershing Road and State Street.

Through this exploratory move, Lightfoot is signaling that she sees the casino as a possible economic development driver for neighborhoods in dire need of revitalization. And while no one can argue that the areas around, say, Hegewisch or Washington Park wouldn't benefit from an infusion of investment, there's little reason to believe a casino is the right form. Study after study finds that casinos have a negative social and economic impact on the towns that welcome them. If Chicago is to embrace this risky form of revenue generation—and those cards have already been dealt, there's no fighting it now—then the city as a whole will be better off if the Lightfoot administration recognizes that a casino placed on the old U.S. Steel site is more likely to pull dollars out of the pockets of nearby residents than it is to satisfy the entertainment needs of conventioneers and tourists in search of a good time on a visit to the Windy City.

If a casino is to serve its function—namely, drawing lots of dollars out of the wallets of out-of-towners rather than locals—then it must be located in places where visitors want to be. That means picking a location close to downtown. By those lights, the best location of the lot now being studied by the Lightfoot administration is the Michael Reese site, within a dice toss of McCormick Place. There could be even better options closer in, but none of those possibilities seem to be on the table at the moment.

In issuing its list of contenders, city officials insisted it is absolutely not final and that any decision about a location for the 4,000-position gambling facility will not be made without substantial public hearings and other input. And, predictably, NIMBY-style opposition is already building in several of the neighborhoods on the mayor's shortlist. The good news is there's still time to tip the odds in favor of the Loop—that is, if Lightfoot is truly listening.

Read more https://www.chicagobusiness.com/opinion/lightfoots-about-make-bad-bet

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