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Chico speaks against downtown Chicago casino

Mayoral candidate Gery Chico said he'd support building Chicago's first casino, as long as it isn't in the downtown business district.

State lawmakers are considering a major gambling expansion that would allow for five additional casinos in Illinois, including a land-based casino in the city. The measure has passed the Illinois Senate, but still needs approval from the Illinois House and the governor.

Some Chicago business leaders are pushing for the casino to be built in the Block 37 retail space in the Loop. But Chico told reporters Wednesday that he doesn't want the city's downtown business district to be defined by gambling. He pointed to northwest Indiana's casinos as proof that Chicagoans will travel if they want to gamble.

"People find their way there.  This does not have to be right downtown," Chico said. "This could be in an area where we could get the greatest economic impact to help our residents with jobs and tax revenues and other fee income for the city."

Chico estimated a casino could bring in $250 million dollars a year, which he says he'd spend on education and city operations. But he said he'd want Chicago to own the land and the gaming license, and hire a private company to operate the gaming hall. The gambling expansion bill would also allow for more slot machines at Illinois' nine existing casinos, and it would permit slot machines at horse tracks, as well.

State lawmakers who support the bill are turning to gambling as their own $1 billion-a-year revenue source as they grapple with a budget deficit that could climb to $15 billion by next year.

But even if the gambling expansion does pass through the General Assembly, it's still far from clear whether Gov. Pat Quinn would sign in into law.  The governor in the past has called the bill "top-heavy," and has been wary of making Chicago "the Las Vegas of the Midwest."

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