Urges fellow Trustees to review “facts and figures” before signing letter of support
by Josh Bootsma and Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (October 5, 2019) – “CALUMET CITY REQUEST OF SUPPORT FOR GAMING LICENSE” was on the agenda for the October 1 Committee of the Whole meeting. As Village Administrator Dan Podgorski explained, Calumet City is taking steps to apply for a casino license from the State of Illinois, and Mayor Michelle Qualkinbush requested that Lansing write a letter of support. In return, according to Podgorski, Qualkinbush has made an informal offer to share revenue from the casino.
“It is typical in these cases for a potential host community to offer an intergovernmental revenue stream agreement to many of the communities within its proximity,” Podgorski said, “This is done in order to share the economic benefits realized by the host community.”
Revenue to cover impacts
Podgorski explained that such offers exist because the presence of a casino is sure to have impacts on the surrounding communities: “It’s pretty clear that if Calumet City were to be awarded a casino license, that the Village of Lansing would probably be impacted as much, if not more, than [other surrounding municipalities].”
Podgorski said that there were no specifics offered as to how much money Lansing could expect to receive as part of this agreement, but that it would receive a larger percentage than other neighboring communities, given that Lansing’s roads, bridges, and traffic would likely be more affected.
Although no specific location was mentioned, Podgorski said, “Mayor Qualkinbush has advised that a casino, if they were to get one, would be located in their mall area.”
Racing for gaming
In June of this year, Governor JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 690 into law, softening gambling restrictions throughout the state. The bill allows for six new casinos to be opened in specific areas in Illinois—Chicago, Danville, Waukegan, Rockford, Williamson County, and one of the following Cook County townships: Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Rich, Thornton, or Worth.
Podgorski estimated that between six and ten municipalities would apply for the casino license in the south suburbs. The Homewood Village Board has scheduled a public hearing to consider a proposal for a casino development on Halsted Street. The hearing is scheduled for 6:30pm on Monday, October 7, in the Marie Irwin Center. Homewood is part of Bremen, Bloom, Rich, and Thornton Townships.
Podgorski said, “In order to preserve our ability to share in potential revenues, I feel it’s in the best interest of Lansing to at least consider supporting Cal City’s efforts to obtain a casino license and ultimately to consider entering into an intergovernmental revenue sharing agreement.”
He characterized sending a letter of support as “trying to be a good neighbor with your south suburban communities.”
Re-calibrating the discussion
After some Trustees asked questions about the potential revenues, the length of the agreement, and the timeline, Trustee Jerry Zeldenrust confessed to his fellow board members that he found himself in a “quandary.”
Zeldenrust had expressed his personal views against gambling during the July 16 Board meeting, when the Board voted to grant a liquor license to Off Track Betting, a licensed gambling facility seeking to start development at 2 River Place in Lansing. At that meeting, he read a prepared statement regarding the negative effects Lansing would suffer, but he did not actively seek to change his fellow Trustees’ minds on the matter. He voted no on that resolution, but it passed.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Zeldenrust doubled down on his thoughts on gambling. He encouraged his fellow Trustees to be thoughtful about the issue and consider some “facts and figures” of the effects of casinos. Particularly, he referenced the National Gambling Impact Study Commission as a valuable resource.
That report mentions impacts beyond wear-and-tear on roads and bridges, such as the impact on local small businesses:
“In Atlantic City and elsewhere, small business owners testified to the loss of their businesses when casinos came to town. As evidence of this impact, few businesses can be found more than a few blocks from the Atlantic City boardwalk. Many of the ‘local’ businesses remaining are pawnshops, cash-for-gold stores and discount outlets. One witness noted that, ‘in 1978 [the year the first casino opened], there were 311 taverns and restaurants in Atlantic City. Nineteen years later, only 66 remained, despite the promise that gaming would be good for the city’s own.’”
The impact on crime rates is also explored in the report. Though no clear conclusions were drawn because of limited objective data, the report includes this anecdotal evidence from pathological gamblers:
“The Commission heard repeated testimony of desperate gamblers committing illegal acts to finance their problem and pathological gambling, including a Detroit man who faked his own son’s kidnapping to pay back a $50,000 gambling debt, a 14-year hospital employee in Iowa who embezzled $151,000 from her employer for gambling, and the wife of a Louisiana police officer who faced 24 counts of felony theft for stealing to fund her pathological gambling. In a survey of nearly 400 Gamblers Anonymous members, 57 percent admitted stealing to finance their gambling. Collectively they stole $30 million, for an average of $135,000 per individual.”
Any way to make a buck
Recently, Zeldenrust attended an Illinois Municipal League conference at which he sat in on a session about gambling. He said, “I was rather—appalled is a strong word, but—disappointed in the presentation.”
He recounted hearing a representative speak about how they “make the sausage” when it came to passing Senate Bill 690, and the “back-room deals” that took place in order to pass the bill.
“[The legislators] laughed because they said the [casino] for the south suburbs was going to be a ‘jump ball,’ …and they said ‘that’s going to be a big fight down there, so good luck in the south suburbs.’ That’s unfortunate,” Zeldenrust said.
“I’m just afraid that we’re on a slippery slope of our legislators downstate looking at any way to make a buck,” he continued, “I have a hard time signing off on a letter that allows us to benefit from what I know is going to negatively impact the town that gets this casino.”
Respect and values
Zeldenrust characterized his misgivings about the matter as a “crisis of conscience.”
“To be outspoken and see the negative aspects of gambling in general and then to [support] it next door is kind of two-faced,” he admitted. “To say ‘Ok, you have the gambling, we’ll just take the money.’”
He concluded his comments to his fellow Board members by saying, “Just being honest with y’all, I’m struggling with it. So I’m glad that we get two weeks to talk about it, and hopefully we can make a decision that’s in the best interest of our town.”
No response was given to Zeldenrust’s comments.
Zeldenrust affirmed later that though he may be alone in taking a position against gambling, and supporting gambling, and benefitting from gambling, he means no disrespect to his fellow Trustees or to Administrator Podgorski.
In subsequent communication with The Lansing Journal, Podgorski expressed that it was up to the Board members to provide the Village with feedback on the matter, which would influence whether or not the letter of support is placed on the agenda at the next Village Board meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, October 15, at 7:00pm.
Residents who would like to provide feedback on Lansing’s involvement in gambling—or other municipal matters—are invited to contact their representatives directly:
- Email Mayor Patty Eidam, or call 708-895-7208
- Email Administrator Podgorski, or call 708-895-7202
- Email Trustee Jerry Zeldenrust, or call 708-832-4570
- Email Trustee Saad Abbasy, or call 708-832-4569
- Email Trustee Mike Fish, or call 708-832-4568
- Email Trustee Brian Hardy, or call 708-832-4564
- Email Trustee Maureen Grady-Perovich, or call 708-832-4563
- Email Trustee Mike Manno, or call 708-832-4566
Village Board meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings take place at the Municipal Court Complex (the police station) at 2710 170th Street on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.