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McCarthy proposes O’Hare Airport casino

Passengers walk through a terminal at O'Hare International Airport.

Would passengers be tempted to gamble at an O'Hare casino while waiting between flights at O'Hare International Airport? Garry McCarthy thinks so, but one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's allies on the City Council is skeptical. | Getty Images

O’Hare Airport will be getting a new global terminal, new concourses and 25 percent more gate capacity, thanks to an $8.5 billion expansion plan approved by the City Council last week.

If fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has his way, O’Hare will also get something else to occupy air travelers trying to pass the time between flights: a land-based casino on the other side of security checkpoints where gates are located.

“The issue with a casino in the city … was all of the problems it causes in the community. How `bout we put a casino in O’Hare Airport where now it’s for travelers coming through and it’s not going to affect the community and anybody who goes there has to go through TSA?” McCarthy said during an interview for the WBBM-AM Radio program, “At Issue.”

“That’s going to eliminate the issue of the downside of not being able to control what happens — whether it’s organized crime, prostitution, narcotics or whatever it is and, at the same time, that’s going to generate revenue.”

McCarthy’s enthusiasm for the idea of a full-blown O’Hare casino was not at all tempered by the fact that the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is in close proximity to the airport.

“Yeah, but everybody who’s going to the one at O’Hare is traveling. How many people come through O’Hare and have layovers and have to sit around for hours and hours and hours? If they’re sitting at a blackjack table, there’s going to be revenue generated,” he said.

“I don’t know why anybody else hasn’t talked about this. This is just something off the top of our head that we need to consider.”

Ald. Patrick O’Connor calls mayoral challenger Garry McCarthy’s suggestion for an O’Hare casino “not well thought out.” | Sun-Times File Photo

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, said McCarthy’s O’Hare gambling proposal defeats the whole purpose of bringing a land-based casino to Chicago.

“It’s not just the fact that you’re gonna get gambling revenue. You want to have a synergy between hotels, tourism, restaurants and [entertainment] venues so that a lot of businesses get to enjoy the [activity] created from having a place where people are gathering like that,” O’Connor said Monday.

“It’s not well thought out because you’re really not gonna get the crowd. You’re not gonna get the consistent income you’re looking to get. And certainly, you’re not gonna get any run-off … from the synergy that would be created by putting it in a better location.”

O’Connor scoffed at McCarthy’s claim that crime concerns would melt away with an O’Hare casino open only to air travelers who have already passed through TSA security checkpoints.

“That becomes a nightmare. … All you need to do is travel in and out of O’Hare on a regular basis and you know that it’s way too crowded to be able to have people sitting around playing cards and dice and blackjack,” the alderman said.

“It’s a nice try. I just don’t think it’s well thought out.”

Over the years, there has been periodic talk of putting slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports.

In fact, a massive casino gambling bill that would have done just that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first year in office, only to be stopped dead in its tracks by then-Gov. Pat Quinn.

Emanuel has long favored a land-based, city-owned casino with revenues generated for everything from police and fire pensions to school construction and children’s programs. But he has struck out in Springfield, so he’s never had to declare precisely where he would put a Chicago casino.

During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times prior to his second inauguration, Emanuel ruled out video gambling in Chicago and hinted strongly at a downtown casino location.

“I’m against . I believe the right thing to do is a casino because it’s part of an entertainment area. … You can get away from it. It’s different than having it throughout the city,” the mayor said then.

The mayor was asked then to pinpoint the location of a Chicago casino.

“It’s part of our entertainment and hospitality industry. That would be a basic principle,” he said.

The mayor stuck to the script, even after a reporter noted that Navy Pier, the McCormick Place Lakeside Center and the old Michael Reese Hospital site acquired by the city for a 2016 Summer Olympic Games that went to Rio de Janeiro all fit that description.

“It’s part of our convention and hospitality, and it should reinforce that,” he said.