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Further delay likely in Homewood casino bid, no action seen at state veto session

Casino dreamin’ (site boundary
image from the Village of Homewood
casino project documents, casino
chips image © Dana Bartekoske
Heinemann, Dreamstime

Stock Photos)

Homewood last week re-upped its bid to bring a casino to the south suburbs, but time may be running out on the village’s two-year-old gaming proposal.

The Village Board last Tuesday approved an extension of Homewood’s agreement with East Hazel Crest to make 26 acres near Interstate 80/294 and Halsted Street available for a casino. That extension is only in effect through January 16, 2015. It is designed to be in place through the Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session, which begins Wednesday.

However, Rep. Robert Rita — the most recent major sponsor of casino expansion in Illinois – says it is unlikely that more gaming will be approved during the veto session.

Rita, D-Blue Island, is not expecting action on casino expansion during the veto session, spokesman Ryan Keith told The Chronicle on Monday. “But he will return this week to Springfield to have a number of conversations and evaluate the situation, in light of a new governor and new Legislature being inaugurated in January.”

Homewood Village President Richard Hofeld said Saturday that he is hopeful that the veto session might lead to the approval of a south suburban casino and that the Homewood-East Hazel Crest proposal provides the state’s best opportunity to prevent Illinois residents from crossing over to Indiana to gamble.

“It’s up to the members of the General Assembly and there is no way of knowing what they will do,” Hofeld said. He added that it is in the state’s best interest to approve a south suburban casino so that gaming dollars that are being diverted to Indiana stay in Illinois.
“The State of Illinois needs the revenue,” he said. “Here is a revenue source that is untapped and waiting.”

Hofeld says Homewood has done all it can do to bring a casino to the south suburbs. He said the state is asking three main criteria in gaming proposals: which sites would generate the most revenue, which sites would best sustain that revenue, and which sites have the most ethical local government.

“We feel we meet those three criteria better than anyone else,” Hofeld said.

The Homewood-East Hazel Crest proposal was first unveiled in November, 2012. The majority of the site, just south of the expressway and west of Halsted, is located in East Hazel Crest. It also includes the site of the former Homewood Hotel. According to the proposal, the site is readily accessible to 130,000 vehicles each day, and is ideally situated to generate significant revenue for the state. The land in question is all privately owned; Hofeld said the property owners are in favor of the casino proposal.

Rita was chief sponsor of a 2013 bill that would have created new casinos in the south suburbs, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County, and Danville. It passed the Legislature but Gov. Pat Quinn, citing ethical concerns, vetoed the gaming expansion in March of that year.

When Quinn vetoed the bill, he said it suffered from a “total absence of comprehensive ethical standards and regulatory oversight,” including the failure to ban campaign donations by gambling licensees and casino managers, and direct state oversight over the proposed Chicago casino.

During this year’s gubernatorial campaign, both Quinn and his Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner, said they were not opposed to casino expansion as a way to create revenue and jobs. Quinn said ethical concerns need to be addressed in any gaming expansion. Rauner said he believes local residents should have a strong voice regarding where casinos are located.

Opponents of more casinos fear that the state gambling economy is already saturated and gaming expansion will only mean more addiction to costly games of chance. With Rauner taking office in mid-January, his administration will likely be left with the question of whether Illinois should have more casinos.

If the General Assembly approves a south suburban casino site, six other local municipalities – including Calumet City and Country Club Hills – are expected to make proposals of their own. The Illinois Gaming Board would make the final decision on which company gets the casino license, and where the casino would be located.

Hofeld said Saturday that the Homewood-East Hazel Crest agreement can be further extended if there is no action during the veto session.

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