Aurora and Elgin mayors oppose casino plans near O’Hare

Angling to prevent losing gamblers to a new casino in a neighboring town, officials from Aurora and Elgin came out Monday against putting the state’s 10th casino near O’Hare International Airport.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner and Elgin Mayor Ed Schock instead told regulators that the state’s last casino license should go to Waukegan – of the three remaining bidders the farthest from the Hollywood and Grand Victoria riverboats, respectively.

Schock said picking Waukegan would complete a „chain of casinos“ around the suburbs, „effectively enabling every potential gamer residing within the greater Chicago metropolitan area to be within a convenient distance of an Illinois riverboat casino.“

The lobbying came during an Illinois Gaming Board hearing Monday in which Waukegan supporters put on a full-court press and casino opponents got their first public say.

Board members are expected to pick between Waukegan, Rosemont and Des Plaines by the end of the year. A new casino could be up and running in 2010.

Corporate and suburban officials made their official pitches for the license last week. On Monday, the general public was allowed to speak.

A group of ministers in the Waukegan area and a citizens group in Des Plaines said casinos would severely hurt their towns as low-income workers are sucked into gambling away their earnings.

„We don’t want to become the East St. Louis of Northern Illinois,“ said the Rev. Glenn R. Stewart, president of the Greater Waukegan Ministerial Association.

Stewart read aloud newspaper articles about the southern Illinois city’s dire poverty, violence and corruption. A major investor in the Casino Queen in East St. Louis heads the Waukegan bid.

From Des Plaines, several residents pointed out to regulators that the suburb voted down a casino in a 1994 referendum.

„The Des Plaines council members have either not heard or have decided to disregard the expressed wishes of their people,“ said Jim Blue, head of the Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. „We hope that you will hear us where they have not.“

In all, 11 of 24 speakers came out for Waukegan, including union officials and suburban politicians. Supporters of Rosemont included mayors of suburbs – including Robbins and Evanston – that stand to share in casino taxes if the town is selected.

Rosemont has bid the most for the license, USD 435 million, but the city faces ongoing questions because it was previously stripped of the license under allegations of mob influence. A former MGM executive leads the bid, and Rosemont officials have said they will have nothing to do with the casino.

Both Rosemont and Des Plaines officials argue a casino in their towns will draw more new gamblers from Chicago than from existing casinos in Elgin or Aurora. Des Plaines bidders have offered USD 100 million upfront for the license. Waukegan bidders have offered USD 225 million.

Casino regulators will next meet in public on Dec. 16.