Chicago Mayoral Candidate Calls for O’Hare Airport Casino

O'Hare International Airport [Pic: Nicola Delfino]

O’Hare International Airport in Chicago should have its own casino to boost revenue for the cash-strapped city, mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy says.

Speaking over the weekend on WBBM-AM’s ”At Issue” radio program, McCarthy said that a casino located at the airport would bring much-needed money into the area, at the same time cutting down on many social issues that are linked with legalized gambling, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“The issue with a casino in the city, my understanding, was all of the problems it causes in the community. How about we put a casino in O’Hare Airport where now it’s for travelers coming through and it’s not going to affect the community, and anybody who goes there has to go through TSA?” McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who was fired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as police superintendent in late 2015, added that his proposal would cut down on organized crime, prostitution, and narcotics that may be linked to gambling. He adds that the inclusion of a casino at O’Hare International Airport will also give those with layovers something to do while they wait for their next flight.

“If they’re sitting at a blackjack table, there’s going to be revenue generated,” McCarthy said.

Expansion plans

The building of a casino has been proposed on several occasions over the years and by different mayors, including Emanuel. A few of these proposals have included the addition of slot machines at Chicago’s two airports—O’Hare and Midway.

However, despite the lobbying for casino expansions, such proposals have been voted down by the state legislature. According to the Chicago Tribune, existing casino owners typically push against proposals to build new casinos, yet it’s thought that the addition of a city casino could attract gamblers from the suburbs, where betting revenue has reportedly been on the decline for a number of years.

In 2012, the former Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, vetoed a significant gambling expansion package that would have permitted five new casinos, including one in Chicago. Such roadblocks haven’t done much to dampen efforts to authorize a casino in Chicago’s airports.

If adding a casino at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport did get the go-ahead, it could come at no better time. The Chicago City Council recently approved an $8.5 bn (£6bn) expansion of O’Hare International Airport. According to McCarthy, the construction of a casino at the airport would be a logical extension of Emanuel’s expansion at O’Hare.

Airport growth

Once complete, the international airport will see the renovation of three existing terminals, a 25% increase in parking space for planes, 35 new extra gates, and the replacement of 40 existing gates. The airport will grow in size by three million square feet.

Two of the airport’s biggest airlines, American and United, had previously threatened the deal after disagreeing on the number of gates that would be allocated to each carrier. American, which handled 35.5% of passengers at the airport in 2016, accused United of engaging in a secret deal with the city to acquire extra gates. Chicago City Council data shows that United handled 44.5% of passengers in 2016.

According to an Airports Council International 2016 ranking, O’Hare is the world’s second-busiest airport when it comes to take-offs and landings, behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Last year, O’Hare handled nearly 80 million passengers.