Chicago Finance Chair Says Legal Gambling Machines Could Ease Pension Crisis

Jar labeled "Pension" tipped over
There’s a move in Chicago to legalize video games to help solve the city’s pension crisis.

30-second summary:

  • Gambling machines could raise $80m a year for city’s pension pot
  • Mayor of Chicago wants to open casino to tackle pension problem
  • Attempts to legalize gambling machines met by a brick wall

The new chair of Chicago’s City Council’s Finance Committee has said that the legalization of video gambling machines could help ease the city’s pension crisis.

Move could raise $80m a year

Patrick O’Connor, an alderman in the city’s council, has said it is time to take a different course of action regarding video poker machines, the Chicago Sun Times has reported.

O’Connor said they should be looking “to the model that at least allows the city to get its share” of the revenue.

He said: “While a casino is certainly something that people are looking at, that’s several years away. This is a much more immediate potential. It is a revenue source that could address pensions. It is a revenue source that, right now, is going on under our noses untapped.”

According to him, revenue from the gambling machines could bring in $80m (£62m) a year in potential income.

“And that is before you would look at potentially changing the state formula for the share between municipalities and the state, which I believe is something the state would consider, given the potential to come into the city and basically increase their revenue significantly,” he added.

Casino option

O’Connor’s comments mimic those of Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel,who is due to leave office in May. However, he’s interested in opening a casino in the city. In December, Emanuel said that the opening of a casino in Chicago could alleviate the city’s pension crisis.

At the time, it was reported that Chicago’s four public worker pension funds had more than $27bn (£21bn) in unfunded liabilities. Yet, if the casino gets the green light and opens in the city, any tax money Chicago receives can be placed in the pension funds.

Emanuel is also pushing for the legalization of cannabis.

In 2020, it’s expected that the city will require an additional $276m (£214m) for police and fire pension contributions and an extra $310m (£240m) for the municipal and laborers’ pension funds. While Emanuel concedes a casino wouldn’t be the “silver bullet” to the city’s pension problem, it would help to solve it.

Against legal gambling machines

However, while the mayor of Chicago is in favor of opening a casino in the city, he’s against the notion of legalizing video gambling machines.

Four years ago, when a decree authorizing video gambling was introduced, Emanuel shot it down. At the time he said that he didn’t support it.

He added: “If we’re going to have gaming, it should be isolated or in a central location like a casino. I don’t want to see it spread throughout the city of Chicago. I don’t think that’s good for the type of city we want to have.”

For now, the idea of legalizing gambling machines in Chicago is being met by a brick wall consisting of the council and the mayor. However, while this is the case, the chair believes this is a “legitimate place to look” for new revenue. With illegal machines popping up in various locations, including, states O’Connor, gas stations and laundromats, it makes sense that the city should be able to reap the rewards from them.

Yet, as can be seen, it’s easier said than done.