Local residents oppose a casino at three proposed Chicago sites

As Chicago leaders consider where a new casino in the city might be located, local residents expressed their concerns:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Earlier this month, the city held town hall meetings for each of the three proposals and got an earful from neighbors opposed to a casino being built close to their homes. Their overwhelming message: Not in my backyard.

“This casino does not belong in a neighborhood,” said Antonio Romanucci, a resident of River North, where the Bally’s casino would be built, if approved. “You are putting a square peg into a round hole.”

Others at the Bally’s meeting raised concerns about traffic, crime and noise from concerts…

And while The 78 is marketed as an entirely new neighborhood, residents from the South Loop, Chinatown and Pilsen spoke in opposition to including a casino in the already approved megadevelopment.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t blow it on a casino,” said an 11-year-old named Sean, who spoke at the town hall for the Rivers 78 proposal. “A casino does not make a neighborhood. Things that attract families are what make a neighborhood.”

Last week, Lightfoot responded to the community blowback saying there is always “a level of NIMBYism” with large development projects.

Generally, communities and cities tend to like developments that will generate significant revenues. People spend money at casinos and using the property to generate revenues is preferable to having vacant properties or ones with limited revenues.

However, a casino is not a typical land use. They are relatively unusual. They can attract a lot of visitors. They can be viewed as encouraging vice and unsavory activity.

So, the mayor’s claims that this is just NIMBYism might not work with a more unusual land use like this. Sure, residents tend to complain about changes to traffic, lights, noise, and property values with a new nearby development, but does anyone want to live next to a casino?

Watching the decision-making process on this one might just make a fascinating case study for urban scholars for years to come.

Improving transit options in Las Vegas

It may be an iconic scene to drive down the Strip in Las Vegas but the city is looking for ways to improve transit:

But consistent growth has forced a city known for sprawl to start to change its ways. Last year, voters approved a measure that ties fuel taxes to inflation, a move that will address the region’s $6 billion shortfall in road infrastructure. In addition, the Regional Transportation Commission approved a new long-term plan to expand light rail down the Maryland Parkway and massively expand bus service. In mid-March, the RTC submitted a proposal to build a multibillion-dollar light rail system that would connect the Strip with McCarran International Airport.

The Strip has limited transit solutions, most of them privately funded by the gaming industry. A series of free trams that travel from casino to casino allows tourists to move up and down the western side of the Strip without using cars. In 2004, a 3.9-mile monorail opened just to the east of the Strip that serves casinos on that side as well as the convention center. The city also created a double-decker public bus named the Deuce that exclusively serves the Strip…

Brown says comparing Vegas to other cities, especially those in the Northeast with subway and rail systems, isn’t fair. Vegas has a different growth pattern due to the influx of tourists and the large number of workers who serve them—all of whom need to move to one place—and will need a different type of technology to solve its transport issues. “Vegas is about as unique a place in the world as you can find.”

Autonomous vehicles are one option that could improve congestion, lower emissions, and appeal to tourists’ desire for novelty. Brown wants infrastructure that can support and take advantage of that technology. The city and RTC are aggressively courting autonomous vehicle companies and studying “high capacity corridors” throughout Southern Nevada to prioritize opportunities for bus rapid transit.

These options sound like they would help. In particular, giving people an option to take a train from the airport to the Strip is something that should have been done years ago.

At the same time, these are primarily changes that would take advantage of the existing road structure (outside of the monorail and light-rail options). Perhaps it is too much to ask for a city with such important structures – the sprawling casinos built along the Strip – to attempt to create a denser, more walkable streetscape. The amount of work that would need to be done to better tie together the casinos would be massive. But, as someone who has walked the Strip multiple times, wouldn’t it create a more exciting experience for tourists? Wouldn’t it reduce traffic and the long lines at the taxi stands? Maybe the true goal of the Strip is get people to do their recreational walking within the casinos – stroll through Venice or Ancient Rome so you’ll spend some money there – but there are some bigger questions about urban planning than just providing a few more mass transit options.

Could a new Chicago casino be a cultural hub?

Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones argues that the inevitable Chicago casino should be more of a cultural hub than a gaming paradise:

Instead, it should be viewed as a major new cultural hub, which happens to have a little gambling going on alongside its many other attractions.

And that won’t happen unless Chicago’s creative professionals — its architects, entertainment executives, chefs, artists, actors, music promoters, cultural officials — hold their noses and overcome, as did the former street performers of the Cirque du Soleil more than two decades ago, whatever qualms they may have about becoming involved with gambling, which will arrive with or without them. They must grab hold of this civic debate right now, before the chance is lost for good.

The main energy of a Chicago casino should have everything to do with experiencing architecture, watching spectacular shows, eating at world-class restaurants, interacting with thrilling technological art and the like, and as little as possible to do with gambling. When winners are few, the core activity, experience elsewhere has shown, is more frequently depressive than ecstatic. The casinos’ commercials showing constant excitement at the slots are, as anyone who has spent time in a casino late at night will attest, illusions.

The only thing the actual gambling would bring to the table is the revenue that will make other great things possible in what could be an intensely creative building, one of the few big-ticket cultural developments that actually could pay for itself and get built in a barely recovering economy, rather than languishing as a costly, unfunded dream.

This is an intriguing idea – and one that might be too aspirational. The conversation about casinos in Illinois has been primarily about money as state and local governments are in desperate need of cash. My primary question to Jones would be whether there are actual models to follow here – are there urban casinos, outside of Las Vegas, that meet the goals he suggests or would Chicago be doing a whole new thing here? What would it take to have both a profitable casino as well as one that could be a cultural center? Where would such a cultural casino be located that could build upon existing tourist flows while also attracting new crowds that would be drawn to a casino? Historically, casinos tend not to have the best reputation as they attract certain kinds of crowds so building a world-class casino and cultural hub would be a big coup if done well in Chicago.