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Mendoza floats idea of slot machines at O’Hare and Midway

Mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times newsroom Thursday, November 15, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Susana Mendoza. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza on Friday floated the idea of installing slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports to generate a jackpot of new revenue that would help satisfy a $1 billion spike in pension payments.

It happened during a taping of the WLS-AM (890) Radio program, “Connected to Chicago.” Mendoza was asked where she stood on the issue of video gaming, which is illegal in Chicago.

“It’s not like, ‘Let’s just do video gaming.’ If you’re gonna have it, it has to be targeted and in a responsible way,” Mendoza said.

“I’d be open to slots at the airports, for example, where the tourists are coming. The majority of Chicagoans aren’t hanging out at the airports. But we might be missing out on revenue there that could be available. I don’t want to … expand casino gaming or video poker in communities that already have significant social challenges.”

Mendoza is the third mayoral candidate to suggest some form of airport gambling.

Fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy has proposed a land-based casino on the secure side of O’Hare — past TSA checkpoints.

McCarthy has argued that confining the casino to passenger gate ares would eliminate “the downside of not being able to control what happens — whether it’s organized crime, prostitution, narcotics or whatever it is.”

Ja’Mal Green has also suggested an airport casino.

What none of those three candidates realized was that revenues generated at O’Hare and Midway airports must stay at the airports and be spent on airport projects. That means an airport casino or slot machines is not a solution to the $28 billion pension crisis.

WLS host Bill Cameron said Mendoza suggested airport slot machines in response to his question about new revenues for pensions. But Mendoza spokesperson Rebecca Evans later insisted Mendoza is not eyeing slots for pensions.

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

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

Emanuel recently renewed his push for a land-based, city-owned casino with revenues dedicated exclusively to pensions. He even said he wants to put the casino on Port District land adjacent to the Harborside International Golf Center.

But he has repeatedly and emphatically ruled out video gambling in Chicago for fear that it would saturate the city with gambling.

“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 has said.

Even so, unregulated devices that look and work almost exactly like video poker machines are popping up in places all over Chicago.

Thanks to these machines — often referred to as “sweepstakes” — the city has become studded with what effectively are mini-casinos in gas stations, convenience stores and even a laundromat.

Unlike the video poker machines the state has regulated and taxed since 2012, the other machines don’t pay state or local government. And the state does not conduct background checks of sweepstakes machine operators or the businesses that install them, as is required for video poker licenses.

A recent investigation by WBEZ found some bars deemed unfit for video gambling have simply installed sweepstakes machines instead.