For Immediate Release
COAL STRONGLY OPPOSES SB1739, ILLINOIS’ LATEST VERSION OF A GAMING BILL –
AND HERE’S THE WHY…
CHICAGO, Illinois April 15, 2014 –
Dear Members of the General Assembly and the Chicagoland Community:
We, the Coalition of African American Leaders (COAL), are writing to inform you of our opposition to the 2014 manifestation of the gaming bill, SB1739.
For those of you that do not have time to read the full press statement, we’ll be succinct: This is a terrible piece of legislation, period. For those that want to delve into the why, read further…
Expansion of gaming always promises jobs, revenue opportunities and economic development. And yet, this only happens when gaming expansion is responsible, reasonable and manageable in scope, and includes both the necessary controls and investments to, if not ensure, at least position the expansion effort to maximize benefits to the majority of residents, and the required constraints to minimize the opportunities for negative consequences.
Instead, this bill as drafted funds the proposed expansion on the backs of taxpayers via the issuance of almost a billion in general obligation bonds (plus attendant interest payments on the debt) and bails out wealthy track owners by giving them free casino licenses (that are valued as much as $1 billion in other parts of the country) without requiring them to offer any community benefits or revenue sharing like casinos, while leaving at-risk communities, at-risk individuals, nonprofits and schools without the resources they need that could be funded as part of the legislation. This legislation won’t improve our communities – this bill will not translate into additional funding for critical areas of concern – rather it will simply shift monies around. This latest amended Gaming Bill appears to serve outside and special interests and not the interests of the majority of Chicago land residents and most assuredly is not in the best interests of African American communities.
The problems with SB1739 are myriad; we question the following:
- If Chicago gets its own casino, it would be unprecedented. No other city in the United States owns its own casino. As stated in a Sun-times article in 2013, “…It would leave Chicago with the singular ability to control its revenue, but it also leaves the city without a solid model as it delves into an industry that’s often wrought with corruption and mob influence.” COAL builds upon this concern by asking, “is the management of casinos a core competency of the City of Chicago? The answer, quite clearly, is ‘no’, therefore what confidence should we have in the City’s ability to get it right, to avoid corruption, and to push back on the influence of special interests?
- There is a provision for a new city casino authority, which will share regulatory responsibility with the Illinois Gaming Board for a casino built in Chicago. The Tribune states, “We can’t find another example of this goofy regulatory framework anywhere on Earth. Remedy: Any expansion bill should include this brief clause: “Because of its excellent record of intercepting organized crime attempts to infiltrate casinos, the Gaming Board alone will regulate any Chicago casino, just as it now regulates every other casino in Illinois — period.” Should residents be wary of a bill that doesn’t clearly specify how two regulatory bodies will inter-relate and operate? Does this represent sound governance and transparency or does SB1739 simply add a number of positions to be filled via patronage and cronyism?
- SB1739 stipulates that the Mayor of Chicago will name all members to the Chicago Casino Development Authority. Will this Authority adequately reflect the make-up of Chicago’s communities and truly represent the interests of all of Chicago’s residents?
- SB1739 contains the following duties for the newly formed Chicago Casino Development Authority. Duties of the Authority: It shall be the duty of the Authority, as an owners licensee under the Illinois Gambling Act, to promote and maintain a casino in the City. The Authority shall own, acquire, construct, lease, equip, and maintain grounds, buildings, and facilities for that purpose. With the City’s track record on contracts for Black companies across all of these areas the Authority will be responsible for, how will we ensure that companies of color receive their fair share of the potential construction, maintenance, commodities and professional services contracts? If it is not addressed within SB1739, and because ‘past often can be prologue’, then our community will come up significantly short from the billions of economic dollars that are inherent in an endeavor of this size. And this is not unique to a casino built in Chicago, rather it applies to all newly built casinos that are a part of this bill.
- In order to be very clear on the above bullet point, we will re-state the point: We expect diversity in all aspects of this endeavor and absolutely nothing is specified in SB1739 – there must be diversity on Boards, in Construction and Maintenance contracts, in Legal and other Professional Services, in Suppliers used, in Vendor and Concession Opportunities offered, in Financial Institutions utilized and more. Further, resultant employment opportunities must go beyond minimum wage positions, to include professional, managerial and executive level positions. To the degree that there are investment and ownership opportunities, these too must be opportunities for all parts of our diverse City, county and state.
- And let us be clearer still; we are not simply referring to ensuring that traditional ‘set-asides’ be included, rather we are talking about real parity that reflects the composition of this City and the wealth of skills, competencies and talents across our community.
- We believe that there may be an issue of saturation in building a number of new casinos when it has been reported that existing gaming revenues are on the decline. Does this bill cannibalize the casino business? Are projected revenues realistic? Will projected revenues even be realized?
Regional News reports, “There are over 15,000 bars and restaurants in Illinois that serve alcohol. Retail liquor establishments, fraternal and veterans’ groups, and even truck stops, are allowed to have up to five video-gambling machines each. There is no limit to the number of establishments that can apply for a license. This form of gambling occurs in close proximity to residential areas where people encounter the machines in their day-to-day activities, creating thousands of mini-casinos in neighborhoods. With no constraints, again we ask, is there an issue of saturation and further, can all of this truly be regulated and regulated at an acceptable cost?
And just as importantly, what about social investment and social responsibility? For example, a past Gaming Bill included a Self-Exclusion Program that allowed individuals to opt-out of receiving casino-related marketing materials to protect family members or for religious and other objections. Other gaming bills have included specified commitments to community development in under-served areas or funds targeted to NPOs that address gambling and other addictions. Again, SB1739 appears to serve special interests, and not the interests of the greater public.
- COAL believes that transparency is a critical control that must be in place if the community is to have confidence that both the City and State are honoring their commitment to fighting corruption, guarding against the influence of special interests and to ensure diversity in all aspects of the gaming expansion. To this end, language must be added that provides a framework for said transparency.
- Finally, it should be noted that COAL reached out to State Representative Bob Rita, SB1739’s sponsor, on more than one occasion (both in 2013 and in 2014) to voice and discuss these concerns, with no response from Rita. When Rita states that he has been open to hearing from the public, we question if that means all parts of the public.
Based on the above outstanding questions and concerns, the lack of controls and constraints, and the absolute lack of diversity in SB 1739, COAL is adamant that this bill not pass into law, a bill that appears to only benefit a select few while ignoring the needs of the many.
Further, no State Representative within the Black or Progressive Caucuses should support this bill in its current form.
The General Assembly has been grappling with important fiscal decisions over the past several years. They have had to make very difficult decisions, but we can and must do better than SB1739. Say no to this irresponsible and in-equitable proposal and instead focus on the issues that will create jobs, improve the state’s finances and provide a better future for all of our residents and businesses.
We strongly urge a “NO” vote on SB1739!
Board of Directors
Coalition of African American Leaders
Clarence N. Wood, President, Coalition of African American Leaders (COAL) (312) 404-8269
Craig K. Wimberly, Chair, COAL – Public Policy (773) 350-9315
Click here to view the March 2014 2.0 Issue here.