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Emanuel floats Southeast Side Port District site for possible Chicago casino

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he'll push state lawmakers this spring to approve a Chicago casino before he leaves office, suggesting the Port District site on the city's Southeast Side. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday said he’ll push state lawmakers this spring to approve a Chicago casino before he leaves office, suggesting a Port District site on the city’s Southeast Side for the potential gaming house that has proven elusive to officials for decades.

Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board that he has “a love-hate relationship” with gambling, but said he was swayed by a study that showed the city loses about $40 million in monthly revenue as gamblers take their money across the border to Hammond, Ind.

The would-be casino revenue is part of Emanuel’s series of proposals unveiled Wednesday to shore up city worker pension funds.

“It would bring a whole entertainment economy to the Southeast Side,” Emanuel said. “You’d be capturing everything that leaves for Hammond and keep it in Chicago.”

Emanuel said officials have to have a “thoughtfulness as to the social impact” of the casino and dismissed the idea of putting a casino near the downtown area.

“People come to Chicago for the convention business to do business. They go to Orlando and Vegas for the entertainment.

“If you don’t place it in the central business district, and move it out closer to a neighborhood that would use that economic investment, you’d get the benefits of the revenue to go to pensions — which would lower the cost for taxpayers — get jobs in that area, and not affect the overall well-being or the quality of life of our city … And it wouldn’t affect McCormick Place or the overall culture of the city, or the business climate of the city.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) represents a Far South Side ward that is near the Port District site and adjacent to the authority-owned Harbourside golf course.

He’s the one who pitched Emanuel on the idea of putting a casino there.

“We know now that 77 percent of all revenue that goes to Hammond is coming from Chicago and Illinois. We need to stop the hemorrhaging,” Beale said.

“Indiana just passed a law to close another casino and move it closer to the border. They’re doubling down on the fact that we’re allowing all of this money to leave our state.”

Beale noted that the Hammond casino makes four times as much money as all of the other Indiana casinos.

“If we get it, the only place that it needs to go is the South Side of Chicago right off the Bishop Ford Expressway. It’s right there on the Port Authority’s land,” he said.

Emanuel said he’d push for the Chicago casino before his term ends in May, but negotiations on the long-shot bid will be in the hands of lawmakers in Springfield. The prospect of a Chicago casino has been floated numerous times in the past, only to be sunk by competing demands in other betting industries.

A spokeswoman for J.B. Pritzker said the governor-elect has supported the expansion of gaming to help pay for a capital bill, but the actual details haven’t been directly discussed.