TINLEY PARK, Ill. | The convention center in Tinley Park will be the place to be Monday night for municipal officials from across the south suburbs that wish to be the home of a proposed south suburban casino, and even a few that do not.
State Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, scheduled a hearing to give communities a say in resolving the issues that have stalled casino development. Rita is a legislative sponsor of a bill that would expand the number of licensed casinos from 10 to 15, with one of the five new sites to be somewhere in south suburban Cook County.
Many suburban mayors and village presidents say they will be on hand for the 6 p.m. hearing at the Tinley Park Convention Center, 18451 Convention Center Drive, in hopes of getting a better sense of where their communities stand in becoming the site of a south suburban casino.
Some, like Ford Heights, plan to use the session as a chance to lobby state officials on their own behalf, even though nothing can happen until the General Assembly makes changes in the state laws that relate to casinos, which have been debated for years without being approved.
Spokesman Sean Howard said Ford Heights officials still believe their site at Ill. 394 and Lincoln Highway is the best.
“It is a site with excellent access to the interstates and also is close to Indiana, which Gov. (Pat) Quinn has always said is an issue when it comes to expanded gambling,” he said.
He said officials from the Merit Management Group will be on hand. It is a consortium of business officials who want to operate a casino in Ford Heights and are willing to share its proceeds with some two dozen communities who support the site, Howard said.
While Bryan Swanson, the economic development coordinator for Calumet City, says leading officials including Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush, City Treasurer Gerald Tarka and City Clerk Nyota Figgs are likely to attend to represent their city’s desires to have a casino.
Qualkinbush has often said she believes Calumet City would be an ideal south suburban casino site because it could draw people who now patronize Indiana-based casinos in East Chicago, Gary and Hammond.
Expressing a similar view is Lynwood Village President Gene Williams, who says his community would consider building a casino close to the state line to take business from Indiana.
Other south suburbs expressing interest include Chicago Heights, Country Club Hills and a joint proposal between Homewood and East Hazel Crest. Homewood Village President Richard Hofeld has said he will be present on Monday.
As will Crete Village President Michael Einhorn. His Will County-based community is not eligible for consideration as a casino site, but Einhorn cites the proximity of his village to communities that do want them.
“I will be attending because I want to see how all this plays out,” Einhorn said. “I want to see what develops out of that process.”
Monday’s hearing originally was to be held last month, but inclement weather caused it to be rescheduled.
Rita said casino and racetrack interests, who would get the right to have slot machines on their premises under the bill as previously proposed, will be on hand to explain what they want from a community.
“I’m a firm believer that gambling expansion can provide great benefits to the state of Illinois and the communities where it comes,” Rita said, in a prepared statement.
“But it is important that we put a bill together that is transparent and that deals fairly with taxpayers and all of the interests involved,” Rita said. “My hope is these hearings put us on the path to getting that done this spring.”