Casino revenues a hot topic in Des Plaines mayoral race
Protecting Rivers Casino gambling revenues, prioritizing what city projects to spend casino money on, and deciding whether to allow video gambling in town are three important issues the next mayor of Des Plaines likely will tackle.
With no incumbent in the race, the three hopefuls vying for the mayor's office April 9 are former mayor Tony Arredia, and two sitting aldermen, Matt Bogusz of the 3rd Ward and Mark Walsten of the 6th Ward.
Former Mayor Marty Moylan resigned Dec. 31 and was sworn in as state representative in the new 55th House District in January.
Des Plaines currently enjoys the distinction of being home to the state's 10th and final casino. Though perhaps not for long.
Most gambling expansion proposals before the state legislature call for slot machines at Arlington Park and new casinos in Lake County, Chicago and the South suburbs.
In responses to Daily Herald interviews and candidate questionnaires, all three mayoral candidates say allowing additional casinos would threaten future revenues for Rivers Casino and Des Plaines.
Arredia said the city should prepare potential legal action against the state's threat to grant five additional casino licenses.
"That breaks the contract as far as I'm concerned," said Arredia, 75, who retired as mayor in April 2009 due to voter-imposed limits on consecutive terms.
As mayor, Arredia pushed to get the final casino license, which the Illinois Gaming Board approved in 2008, picking Des Plaines over Rosemont and Waukegan.
As part of the deal for that 10th and final casino license, Des Plaines agreed to pay $10 million a year for 30 years from gambling revenues to the state, and 40 percent of the remainder to disadvantaged communities before the city gets its share of revenues.
Bogusz said the agreement, signed by Arredia's administration, placed all the risk and liability on the city.
"The other nine casino communities, all of them dropped their casino revenue in their general fund," Bogusz said. "It's not controlled, not segregated."
As chairman of the city council's Finance Committee, Bogusz pushed through a resolution on spending casino revenues, limiting their use to debt reduction and infrastructure improvements. The city council later adopted the measure.
It allowed the city to repay millions of dollars in debt early and initiate a five-year, $10 million project to solve flooding problems, said Bogusz, 26, who is completing his first term as alderman.
"Retiring debt that currently burdens the city's capital improvements fund will reduce our annual debt payment while allowing today's capital dollars to be spent on today's projects," Bogusz said.
Walsten, 55, who runs a home inspection business and is in his second term as alderman, supports using casino revenues for the completion of work in Wheeling's 100-acre Heritage Park, south of Dundee Road and west of Wolf Road, to alleviate flooding in the Des Plaines River watershed.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District broke ground on the Buffalo Creek reservoir project last June. The reservoir would serve as a compensatory storage area for waters held back by Levee 37, 2.3 miles downstream, which aims to prevent flooding in neighborhoods west of the Des Plaines River in Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and a portion of unincorporated Cook County.
"We may increase funding for storm sewer improvements with casino revenue," added Walsten, chairmen of the council's Engineering and Public Safety Committee.
Arredia agrees using casino revenue should be part of a plan to address infrastructure needs such as improving streets, sidewalks, alleys and beautifying the city.
"However, resolving the city's flooding problems, which seems be the number one issue only during a flood, needs to be addressed immediately," he added.
All three candidates also are concerned about the impact of video gambling on casino revenues.
Video gambling went live in October at licensed eateries, taverns, truck stops, veterans groups and fraternal organizations across Illinois, three years after the Video Gaming Act was enacted in July 2009.
While an overwhelming number of cities and counties have enacted ordinances to allow video gambling, many suburban towns have outlawed it. Video gambling also is banned in unincorporated parts of Cook, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties.
Some municipalities have, however, reversed bans on video gambling to take advantage of the potential new revenue.
The Des Plaines City Council has not adopted a ban on video gambling though there has been some talk about it.
Arredia said though he's not in favor of allowing video gambling, the potential revenues from it could make a significant difference to the bottom line of small businesses.
"I don't like it, but if everybody's going to do it ... we should have meetings and talk about what's in the best interest of the small businesses in our town," Arredia said. "A lot of businesses picked up between $25,000 and $50,000 in revenue that helps them pay their bills."
The state receives 30 percent of the net terminal income, of which 5 percent goes to the local government. New York-based Scientific Games, which operates the system for Illinois, receives 0.7275 percent of the remaining 70 percent, while the rest is split between the operator and the location.
Bogusz said any increase in gambling positions in the state, whether it's additional casinos or video gambling, is not in the best interest of Rivers Casino or the city.
"We need to preserve our position," he said.
Walsten said he would not take a stance on banning video gambling at this time without consulting with city attorneys.
"I'm not convinced that it should be banned at all at this point," he said.
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