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Hammond, Joliet Officials Worried About Casino Expansion

Horseshoe Casino

Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. Officials there are worried about the impact of possible gambling expansion in Illinois. (Credit: CBS)

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HAMMOND, Ind. (CBS) – Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed serious doubts about the massive gambling expansion bill now awaiting his signature or veto.

But as CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, the expansion – which includes authorization for casinos within the Chicago city limits and in the southern suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville – would mean extremely tough competition for casinos in places such as Hammond, Ind., and Joliet.

Tax revenue from the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond helped build the Municipal Golf Course and clubhouse.

As for revenues, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott said: “It depends on the year. We’ve seen as much as $35 million.”

The casino also provides about 2,000 jobs.

For this reason, McDermott is not too excited about possible competition coming just 20 minutes away, where Horseshoe’s customers come from.

If you stand outside the casino, you cannot help but notice an awful lot of Illinois plates going in and coming out. A poker player from Chicago, for example, said he gambles in Hammond three or four times a week.

“If the same thing was offered closer, I’d probably skip the 20 miles,” he said.

That would be detrimental for Hammond, McDermott said.

“I’m expecting us to take a hit in revenue,” he said. “Just how much is the big question.”

Joliet leaders and casinos have concerns too. They fear statewide expansion plans calling for slot machines at airports and racetracks – another provision of the gambling expansion bill on Quinn’s desk – could cut into their revenue.

But the point may be at least partially moot, for now. Lawmakers don’t expect Quinn to approve the entire bill on his desk.

“It’s excessive. It’s top-heavy. It’s too much,” Quinn said Wednesday.

But Quinn does seem to be open to a Chicago casino.

To that, Mayor McDermott says the Horseshoe in Hammond offers a great product, and one that’s tough to compete with.

“If I had a tattoo it would be a horseshoe,” he said.

Jokes aside, McDermott, who also touched on the social ills that come with gambling, was sincere in his confidence in Horseshoe’s ability to attract customers for myriad reasons.

So is the casino itself, and in a statement, a representative said its focus is to provide the best gambling and entertainment experience in the entire Chicagoland area.

If the Chicago casino goes ahead, it could go along the lakefront at the what many believe to be the most casino-ready location, though the operators of McCormick Place would like to keep conventions and a casino separated by a couple of miles.

It could also anchor the long overdue-renovation of the Congress Hotel, a great location scarred by labor strife for years.

But others believe a site farther from downtown, along the south lakefront, would both intercept Indiana-bound gamblers, while being far enough away not to compete with Chicago restaurants and other attractions.

Possible operators include MGM, Harrah’s and Wynn, but also a consortium of local hotel owners.