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Steinberg: Don't bet on that casino

Not every city hits the jackpot by opening a casino. | File Photo/Getty Images

There is something garish about plaid suit jackets — a certain Nathan Detroit vibe, particularly if the pattern is on the loud side.

I have a few such jackets, which though more tasteful than the “Guys and Dolls” wardrobe, I hope, hardly ever get worn. But my eye recently fell upon a subdued blue and black job, with — geez — an orange thread.

“Where did I get this?” I asked my wife, holding up the hanger, checking the label. A store in Cannes — and was transported to the South of France, where we intended to go to Monte Carlo. Men visiting the Casino, the guidebooks instructed, must wear jackets and I, with a peasant’s obedience built into my DNA, went out and bought this one.

Which made me feel extra stupid the next day, leaning against the vingt-et-un table at the sparsely populated Casino, along with a handful of Eastern European tourists in their motley Members Only plastic windbreakers, which I guess are “jackets” in the loose sense of the term. I played for half an hour, realized I had the same pathetic pile of franc chips I had started with, cashed out and left.

OPINION

Which is a long way of saying that the casino reality is far from the James Bond fantasy. For both individuals and for cities. If I see one more politician or lobbyist rub his palms together, chortling over the millions untold that Chicago will pull in from its casino, any moment now, I’m going to scream. (Exactly what I’ll scream, I’m not sure, maybe: “And George has a piece of land, and we’re going to be farmers!”)

First, it might never happen. A Chicago casino has been a political will-o’-the-wisp for decades. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Politicians giving away the ranch, spending money they don’t have, telling themselves (and us) that good old Uncle Casino will show up any moment and settle the bill.

Second, if through some miracle, Chicago finally snags a casino, it might not work, or not work like we hope. When Harrah’s opened New Orleans’ first casino, its location and construction were so badly botched that revenues were 60 percent below projections, and the whole project, rather than bailing out anybody, went bankrupt. When Cleveland’s first casino opened in 2012, the Ohio Casino Control Commission estimated it and three other planned casinos would bring in revenues of $1.2 billion, but 2014 Ohio gambling revenues were only a quarter of that, and state’s share of taxes have been disappointing. Casino taxes “hardly made a dent” in budget deficits, according to Wendy Patton, senior project director of the State Fiscal Project of Policy Matters Ohio, calling casinos “another blow to local government finances.”

So don’t count your eggs before they’re in the pudding.

Which goes for more than casinos. Such as the Obama Library. Well, I guess Chicago is going to get it — all together now, fling your rough wool caps in the air and shout, “Hurrah!” — but is the decision really whether it goes into Jackson Park or Washington Park?

The whole point of libraries is to turn to the past for instruction and understanding. So let’s do that. I pick the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, because one of my strongest memories of using it is the long, long cab ride to get there, stuck on some lonely promontory, jutting into the harbor, leaning forward in the cab seat, watching the meter click, thinking, “Where IS this place?” Kind of odd to have put it here. Wouldn’t you think a Kennedy Library would be at Harvard?

The short answer is, that was the plan. Kennedy himself, a month before his death, visited the future site in Cambridge. So what happened? It took about 10 seconds of sleuthing to find this nugget on the library website:

In 1975, the Kennedy Library Corporation abandoned plans to build the library on the site at Harvard University originally selected by President Kennedy due to prolonged delays in freeing the site for construction and opposition by some Cambridge residents who feared urban congestion caused by visitors and tourists.

Well, that would explain it. Note the date. A dozen years of site battle hell. If I would have to bet — and I try not to — I’d say we’ll have an Obama Library open, in 2027, due to delays we can’t imagine, yet. Still, that’ll be long before Chicago sees its first casino.