A gambling bill supported by State Representative and former Chicago Heights Mayor Anthony DeLuca died last month when the State Senate opted not to vote on it in the final hours before the transition to a new state legislature.
DeLuca initially wanted the bill to include provisions for a casino to be built on land that stretches across Ford Heights and Lynwood, but the property ultimately was left off the bill. With State Sen. Terry Link and State Rep. Lou Lang planning to re-introduce the gambling bill, DeLuca said he hopes Lynwood and Ford Heights can work together to get the property onto the new bill.
In an exclusive interview with Homewood-Flossmoor Patch at his family's 57-year-old business, Skyline Disposal, DeLuca explained the conflict between Ford Heights and Lynwood, the importance of a Southland casino.
What’s all this fuss between Ford Heights and Lynwood?
Originally, before the bill was ever called, the village of Lynwood was going to be one of the communities listed as the Southland location. That was subsequently changed to Ford Heights. Nobody’s really sure how that happened, but it did. Once [the bill] was brought forth with Ford Heights listed as a Southland casino, [Ford Heights] was removed.
Editor's note: After ties to both Lynwood and Ford Heights were removed from the bill, the final version did not include any specific community or location for the proposed casino.
How did Ford Heights being removed from the bill affect the Southland?
Part of my difficulty is that there were four locations listed in the bill, and when it was changed to the Southland casino having to be located within five townships, it removed a site-specific location from the Southland. So the other locations were site specific and the Southland was not.
So I felt like, “Here we go again. Everybody else is getting their piece of this and the Southland’s going to get caught up in inner-fighting, and where’s this casino going to go?”
We know that Country Club Hills is interested and they’ve already bid a couple of times on the license before this came up. We know that Harvey has interest. We know that Calumet City’s been serious. So we know that there’s going to be a lot of competition to get the Southland location. That’s fine. Competition is good, and it might improve the bidding process. It might even be better for the taxpayers of Illinois, but on the other hand, why isn’t it that way for the other locations?
So, what’s the solution?
I felt we could have been site-specific. The threshold to be site-specific when you’re talking about an economically depressed area and you’re talking about location—those being the two most important issues—Ford Heights and Lynwood are the obvious choice. What a lot of people don’t know is that the location being identified by Ford Heights and Lynwood is the same piece of property. Yes, Ford Heights is going after it. Yes, Lynwood is going after it, but if you look at a map, it’s actually the same piece of land. Half is annexed into Ford Heights, half is unincorporated Lynwood.
I represent Lynwood and I represent the part of Ford Heights that this property is in. So I tried to get together with the mayors and say, “You guys can’t be in opposition with each other. It’s going to wind up wiping out any hope that we have. We have to work together.”
I spent a lot of time meeting with them, having conversations with them, and they’ve been great. They still want what’s best for their village, but we all have the most to gain in this area if we work together as a united front to try to bring it to that location. Even if it's not site-specific, they can work together to come up with the best plan.
If it’s the same property, why are these two towns working against each other?
If it’s located within your community, you’re considered the host community, which means the dollars that you would receive immediately are a little more, because it’s in your community and you have to provide police and fire protection, water and a host of other services that you, as the host municipality, would be required to provide. There’s also a benefit to your community of getting to say, “It’s in my community.”
What about these s0-called racinos, allowing slot machines at racetracks?
What’s interesting to me was that also included in the gaming bill was slots and tracks and I have a racetrack in my district. I have (Balmoral Park), because I also represent Crete. So for me, this is really an opportunity where we can help the racing industry. In other states where they allow the racinos, which are the slots and tracks, they’re doing very well. They’re generating more revenue. Their purses are larger. So they’re attracting some of the bigger named horsemen. That was a big deal for the horse tracks, so I was hoping that we could look to separate them. I don’t know if it’s going to be possible, but to run the racino bill separately, it wouldn’t get bogged down with the gaming issue. It could be viewed as a separate issue. I would support it. Racinos are a separate issue.
Why is gambling so important?
My main push is not that I am such a supporter of gambling. It’s about jobs, especially for our Southland area here. We need jobs. We are poor. It’s not so much that the casino in the Southland would solve the problem, but here’s how I view it, and I know this from being mayor. Trying to increase development in Chicago Heights was my No. 1 goal, outside of public safety. It was to try to convince our businesses to stay and expand, try to eliminate the blight and attract new business. That was my goal.
What I found that was difficult in working to attract businesses is that a lot of the national retailers were afraid to make that first step. They were afraid to say, “We’re going to make that commitment to Chicago Heights.” If some of them would do that, more would follow.
If a casino comes to the Southland, that would be the first step that would give some feeling of security for the businesses to then come in to follow. Now you have a major economic engine for the Southland. You have employment opportunities. You have not only the ancillaries that would build off of the casino itself, but there’s going to be more of a focus on that area that other businesses can build off of. So, for me, that’s really the first step—the casino.
Was this job emphasis clear enough when the bill was presented last year?
I don’t think it needs to be emphasized more because it was clear that the development of a casino was going to create jobs. Good paying jobs, good construction jobs and plenty of other jobs thereafter. I don’t think there was a lack of focus on that.
What’s the next step?
The next step is I have to talk to Rep. [Lou] Lang, the sponsor of the gaming bill, and I know that he’s been having ongoing conversations with Sen. [Terry] Link to find out that the plan will be.
What about Gov. Quinn? It seemed like he was planning to veto the bill before the Senate killed it by not voting.
I can’t say specifically because I haven’t asked him about the gaming bill, but if the bill actually got passed through the House and Senate I believe that he would sign it. That’s just my own intuition.
Think of the revenue it would generate for the state and the economic opportunities it would create for areas like the Southland that were very supportive of Gov. Quinn. If the bill passed the House and the Senate, I’m certain that the legislators and mayors and business leaders from the Southland that were so influential in supporting Quinn would remind him of how important this is to our area.