Chicago’s proposed casino sites betray why it is failing

Former US Steel South Works site in 2016

By John Ruberry

Do you want to know why so many cities run by Democrats are failures? Because everything is political with them, including economics. Business decisions can only be political ones.

The most recent proof of this truth is Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s announcement of the city’s choice of potential sites for Chicago’s first casino. Five were chosen, four are horrible and one is only bad. But Chicago apparently doesn’t want to build a casino, it wants an urban renewal project instead.

Oh, let me be clear, I am not a fan of casinos. While viewed by some as a license to print money, in reality, casinos take money from people who believe they can game the system. Sometimes that cash is not their own dough. Left out of the economic impact statements of casinos is the money looted from kids’ college funds, stolen from Little League treasuries, and embezzled from employers.

Let’s not forget the simple squandering of money. Just now Mrs. Marathon Pundit asked me what I was writing about, I told her and she replied, “Yesterday I got my nails done. My nail technician said she lost a lot of money recently at casino–she had to move to a smaller apartment after that happened.” My wife then added, “But she hopes to go back to a casino soon.”

Gambling is a dirty business.

But a casino is coming to Chicago. And if  you have to swallow poison, why not at least make it palatable, right?

Most travelers, at least the ones with flush wallets, head to Chicago’s downtown, known locally as the Loop. Often those visitors are in town for trade shows hosted at McCormick Place, which is a couple of miles south of the Loop. That is why the site at the former Michael Reese hospital at 31st and Cottage Grove on the South Side, which was slated to be the site of the athletes’ village for the failed Chicago Olympics, is the best of this bad lot. because it’s close to that convention hall. But it’s far from downtown, as is the proposal at 39th and State, which is in a dangerous neighborhood.

Farther out–and much closer to the Indiana state line than downtown--is the sprawling former US Steel South Works site at 80th and Lake Shore Drive. US Steel shuttered the plant that once employed 20,000 people in 1992. After demolition and an environmental clean up it has sat vacant since then awaiting the “right” project. In Chicago that means the “right” developer who will make the “right” political contributions and hire the “right” employees and subcontractors, that is, relatives and cronies of the “right” politicians.

From 2007-2013 Sandi Jackson, then the wife of Jesse Jackson Jr., was the alderman of the 7th Ward, where the South Works site lies. Both of them ended up in prison for looting Junior’s campaign fund.

To the southeast of the South Works spread is Harborside at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway, an old garbage dump. To be fair it looks pretty pleasant now. If you live in nearby Hammond, Indiana this might be a great place to gamble, but Hammond already has a casino.

The worst of this rotten lot of choices is the only West Side entry, in the North Lawndale neighborhood at Kostner and Roosevelt Road. In Bloody Chicago’s countdown of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, North Lawndale placed third. I did some urban exploration there a few years ago and of all the spots where I did the same–and keep in mind I’ve visited Detroit three times–North Lawndale was the one place where I was constantly fearful in my years of poking around places where few others dare to tread.

Cue the Guys and Dolls music: “Luck be a lady tonight!.”

There has already been a backlash against Lightfoot’s choices, which is why the mayor now says she is still considering a downtown location.

No matter which spot is chosen, mark my words. Chicago will mess it up.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.