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Chicago’s First Casino Possibly in the Cards

Posted on August 24, 2011

By Susanna Pak

Rogers Park restaurant owner Almaz Yigizaw, who owns Ethiopian Diamond on Clark Street, does not think gambling is a good way to raise revenue for the city.

Almaz Yigizaw expanded her Englewood restaurant Ethiopian Diamond to a Rogers Park location two years ago, in the middle of a still-struggling economy.

“I just focus on food and service, and people are coming,” she said. “A restaurant is a restaurant, then the purpose is serving food and drink – that’s what I’ll stick to.”

Yigizaw, who has been in business for 15 years, believes in the traditional way of earning a living. “I think people should work and use their own money instead of waiting for some incentives to come,” she said.

The “incentives” refer to plans in a 400-page bill to expand statewide gambling.

If Gov. Pat Quinn signs the gambling bill into law, it would permit the opening of five new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago, and add slot machines at racetracks and airports.

Some say a casino would bring in much-needed revenue for the city, which is facing a $635 million budget gap for next year, according to the mayor’s office.

Bob Padgett, owner of the bar My Place on Touhy Avenue, said he feels “very good” about the idea of a new casino. “There’s a lot of rich people that go to casinos and spend their money, and we could use it for the city,” he said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also backing the bill. “All the resources from the casino, which is why I wanted to pass it finally after 25 years of debate, is all the resources will go towards rebuilding Chicago’s infrastructure,” he said at a news conference Tuesday.

“It will create, the plan we’ve laid out, somewhere between 15-20,000 jobs, rebuilding 25 new schools, 40 miles of roads,” the mayor added, listing some of the projects the plan would fund.

The bill also allocates funds to help those with gambling problems. Of all the tax revenue collected in the State Gaming Fund, $10 million would be paid every year to the Department of Human Services to fund gambling recovery programs.

The governor has not signed off on the bill for two reasons: It has not yet reached his desk, and he said he has concerns about the way it is written.

“We cannot allow any kind of expansion in gambling to occur if there are questions of integrity,” Quinn said at a Southland Chamber of Commerce luncheon several weeks ago.

Joseph Deschene, the facilities manager at Act One Pub in Rogers Park, said he would want to read through the bill and understand it before deciding if it should pass or not. “What someone can tell you something is and what something actually is can often be two separate things,” he said.

The bill allows a casino to function in a temporary establishment for two years before requiring it to move to a permanent place, so a casino in Chicago may become available sooner than later if the current bill passes.

The bill becomes effective as soon as it is signed into law.

Susanna Pak is a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Susanna previously worked as an associate producer at KHON2 in Hawaii, interned at NBC 5 Chicago and reported for several publications. She enjoys sharing stories on air and online. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with questions, comments or story ideas.


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