CHICAGO - The on-again, off-again plan to bring casino gambling to Chicago is back on after city officials unveiled a proposal yesterday for riverboat casinos and a land-based entertainment center.
Gery Chico, chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley, presented Illinois legislators with a plan for an $800 million entertainment complex that would include up to five riverboat casinos and a Universal Studios-Epcot Center-like facility on adjoining land.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Chico said the project would generate $264 million in new revenues for Illinois, $159 million for Chicago, and $71 million for Chicago public schools each year.
"It will help us stay out front in the competition for tourism and convention dollars," Chico said.
The city proposed increasing the state gaming tax to 25% from 20% and splitting the proceeds, with 75% going to the state and 25% going to the city.
The state's share of the tax, about $182 million a year, would be earmarked for school districts throughout Illinois, Chico said. The state would also get half of a $2 admission tax and enjoy the positive economic impact the complex is expected to have on license fees plus income, sales, and other state taxes, according to the city's plan.
Chicago's casino revenues would come from its share of the gaming and admissions taxes and from an 8% franchise fee charged to developers of the project. The Chicago school system would get its money from a share of an admission fee that would average $12.
Earmarking gaming revenues for education comes at a time when schools in the state are facing tough fiscal problems. For example. the financially strapped Chicago Board Of Education is projecting a $415 million deficit in its preliminary $2.8 billion budget for fiscal 1994, which begins Sept. 1.
Daley's plan calls for building the complex on up to 150 acres on the Chicago River. Who will pay the $800 million price tag for the project was not explained in materials released by the city. City officials did not return phone calls for comment.
State officials said they believe most of the money would come from developers. The plan is the third attempt by the mayor to bring casinos to the city. Chicago needs approval from the Illinois General Assembly for casinos, which are currently only operating on riverboats outside of Chicago.
In March 1992, the mayor proposed a $2 billion privately financed gambling and entertainment complex. However, concern on the part of Gov. Jim Edgar and other lawmakers over expanding gambling in the state left that plan in limbo during last year's spring legislative session.
Last November, Daley returned with an addition to that plan that called for issuing $1 billion of bonds backed by gaming revenues for Illinois schools. But the bonding did little to win support of lawmakers. The latest plan surfaced after the governor left the door open to riverboats in Chicago - an idea Daley initially scoffed at.
Mike Lawrence, Edgar's spokesman, said yesterday that the governor views Daley's plan as "a good start" for discussing the pros and cons of expanding gambling to Chicago. "[The governor] is sympathetic to riverboat gambling in Chicago rather than land-based gambling because we already have riverboats in Illinois," Lawrence said.
Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the speaker is supporting the plan because it gives Chicago the same opportunity to offer gambling as other parts of the state. He added that legislation for the plan is being drafted.
While Chico has called for quick action on the plan, Senate President James Philip, R-Wood Dale, may be ready to apply the brakes.
Mark Gordon, Philip's spokesman, said Philip does not believe the state should a rush a decision on expanding gambling to Chicago. Last week, Philip appointed a gambling subcommittee to study the issue. Gordon said if legislation for Chicago riverboat casinos reaches the Senate, the subcommittee would hold hearings on the matter.