Chicago's gambling problem with gambling

Chicago's gambling problem with gambling
Photo: PV Bella

Chicago history is the story of the gambler's dream. Early explorers gambled that Chicago's location would be a perfect hub for opening up the west and transiting goods to the Mississippi River.

Early settlers gambled on the fur trade with indigenous people. Then there was the gamble of dealing with indigenous warlike people. Chicago's open prairie and its weather was another gamble.

As the small town grew a new form of gambling arose. Land speculation.

New England Yankee entrepreneurs came to Chicago to gamble on commerce what we now call wholesale and retail.

New York finance houses gambled on Chicago, providing the seed money for commerce, manufacturing, and industry.

As the town grew into a city, gamblers came to parlay their games of chance into fortunes.

Making gambling illegal did not stop gaming entrepreneurs from opening up emporiums of gambling and other vices. After a vice crackdown in the early 1900s, gaming went underground. It thrived and profited out of the pubic eye.

With the advent of modern organized crime, gambling became a major business rivaling those listed on the Dow Jones and Standard and Poors. The Outfit in Chicago took gambling to new and higher profits. No one minded. There were a few raids now and then to make it appear city officials were doing something.

Bookies were everywhere. In city hall, the police and fire departments, newspapers, other news media, and large and small businesses.

Elevator operators took bets for people working and living in their buildings. Bellhops and concierges provided the same service in hotels. Barbershops, taverns, news stands, dry cleaners, and candy stores were places bets could be made.

Card and dice games for high rollers were held all over the city, sometimes in suites at major hotels. Taverns held illicit backroom and basement games for the neighborhood folks.

There was even a rumor of a large casino in the basement of a South Side building between Bridgeport and downtown that operated at night until the wee hours of the morning. Allegedly it's habitues were a who's who of Chicago.

Gambling was big business. Betting on horses, sports, and the illegal casinos raked in hundreds of millions of tax free dollars yearly. On the Southside, the Jones brothers controlled the numbers racket until the mob pushed them out.

People gamble. It is a fact of life. Look at all the office pools for sports. The strip cards. The Lottery. Vegas, Atlantic City, the Gulf Coast, and the ubiquitous "Indian" Casinos. All flourishing. All providing revenue to state and local government coffers.

Unfortunately, Chicago, a city built from a gamble and gambling, stubbornly refuses to open casinos and other establishments, like sports betting parlors. Video gaming? Getouttahere.

The blue bloods, blue noses, and busy bodies who live meaningless lives upholding an antediluvian moral code fight gaming tooth and nail. Then there are the good ole boys, those pseudo Christians in the state legislature who represent the boondocks. They are against gambling.

Ministers who hold bingo games and casino nights in their church halls are against gambling.

Mayor Emanuel wants to open a city owned casino in Chicago. He is facing considerable backlash. The mayor has the right idea. Unfortunately he is making small plans. Chicago needs casinos, plural.

Most of the major hotel chains downtown and on the Near North Side, operate casinos elsewhere in America and the world. They are vetted thoroughly. There is no reason why they should not be allowed to open and operate casinos on their properties. This would be a win-win for the city. More people would come to Chicago, more businesses would hold trade shows and conventions here, the tax revenue generated would be a boon for city hall and a relief to the tax payers.

The process could not be more simple. Any hotel chain operating a casino elsewhere in America could apply to open one in the city. The casino must be owned by the hotel corporation and financed through legitimate banks or investment houses regulated by the federal government. No outside private investors would be allowed. The vetting process would be streamlined since the hotel chains have gone through it before.

The casinos would have to be subject to quarterly audits to ensure the city is receiving its fair share of the revenue.

Hotel casinos would bring entertainment and more fine dining to Chicago which in turn will bring more revenue. More tourists would also bring in revenue.

There are those hand wringers who worry about problem gamblers. Who cares? That is their problem. Society cannot be responsible for people's personal choices, addictions, or lack of personal responsibility. If these people cannot gamble at a casino, video parlor, or other legitimate place, they will gamble someplace else. There is still illicit profitable gambling in Chicago. They will blow the rent, gas, electric, or food money one way or another.

Mayor Emanuel has the power, influence, and connections to turn Chicago into a gaming, entertainment, and hospitality Mecca. There are no excuses or reasons not to. People are going to gamble. Suckers are born every minute. The city and its hotels may as well profit from it instead of other locales or what is left of organized crime.

The real opposition will come from other nearby gaming venues. They will hire moralists, ministers, bluenoses, blue bloods, and experts with no expertise in problem gambling and organized crime infiltration to lobby against Chicago casinos. Owners of racetracks will do the same. No one likes competition. Ignore them.

Gaming is a legitimate industry that can bring untold revenues to the city's coffers and profits to the hospitality industry. It is time to finally admit Chicago has a gambling problem. Chicago is losing money to all the other legal and illegal gaming businesses.

Stop the madness. Open up the city to gaming. The time has finally come to admit Chicago was made great through gambling. It can be made greater.


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