Crime commission fires on Ford Heights casino

2011-08-03T17:30:00Z 2011-08-04T09:50:11Z Crime commission fires on Ford Heights casinoBy Gregory Tejeda Times Correspondent
August 03, 2011 5:30 pm  • 

CHICAGO | The Chicago Crime Commission on Wednesday blasted legislation to expand gambling in Illinois, with specific shots aimed at the idea of a south suburban casino located in Ford Heights.

Arthur Bilek is the executive vice president for the 92-year-old commission that monitors organized crime activity in Chicago. He said he does not think the village of about 3,000 people  -- considered one of the most impoverished in the nation -- is capable of addressing the potential problems that would come with a casino.

"They don't have the government. They don't have the police. They don't have any of the infrastructure that would be required to deal with (a casino) adequately," Bilek said.

The watchdog group said that adding five new casinos, including one in Chicago, and slot machines at racetracks would overwhelm the state's gambling regulatory agency. They say Gov. Pat Quinn shouldn't sign the law because it can't be successfully implemented.

Lawmakers passed the legislation in May but Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has a legislative "hold" on it so lawmakers can try to work out a deal. That means Quinn can't act on it.

Quinn previously scoffed at the idea of such a sizable gambling expansion. But he has said he's willing to consider a Chicago casino if it's done properly.

Bilek said the bill does not hold the five proposed new casinos up to the same standards as the 10 existing casinos regulated by the Illinois Gaming Board.

Sean Howard, a spokesman for Ford Heights village government, called the commission's negative impression, "a slap in the face," and said he thinks it is wrong. He said that the tax revenues resulting from having a casino at Ill. 394 and U.S. 30 would stabilize the suburb's tax base to the point where it would be able to overcome many of its municipal problems -- including the lack of its own police department.

He added that a tentative agreement with several other suburbs supporting a Ford Heights location would require that they chip in for the increased cost of providing police.

Ford Heights would like to follow the lead of Tunica, Miss., which was once an impoverished town with a heavy African-American population, but is now a significant tourist attraction due to casinos being built there, Howard said.

Bilek said his concerns about Ford Heights also could be applied to other towns wishing to have casinos as part of their tax base. "A lot of them are low-income communities with little capability of dealing with a casino," he said.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church and one of two clergy members who supported the commission's complaints, is skeptical host municipalities will gain financially from casinos.

"This (bill) does not spell out where the money raised by the casinos (in taxes) will go," Pfleger said. "We were duped by the (Illinois) Lottery, which did nothing to help fund education like we were promised it would."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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