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Rosemont mayor antes up tax revenue to gain casino
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/10/2008 12:15 AM

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Rosemont's mayor still wants a casino -- so much so that he is now willing to give up millions of dollars in tax revenues to land one.

While the politics remain challenging, Bradley Stephens continues to lobby lawmakers to turn the Rosemont Theater into a casino anchoring an expansive entertainment district off the Tri-State Tollway.

Here is the pitch:

• A state-owned, land-based casino nearly double the size of current riverboats that could bring in upward of $726 million a year to state coffers.

• Rosemont gives up the $10 million a year it would normally get in tax revenue.

• The state builds a parking garage, buys Rosemont Theater and rehabs it for about $172 million.

Stephens hopes the funding, location and quick influx of tax dollars will entice lawmakers to come together on a gambling plan they haven't been able to muster support for in years.

The Rosemont casino could bankroll $6 billion in road, transit and school construction, about a quarter of what many say is needed statewide.

"The state is in such dire need of money. With this, they get it all," Stephens said, referring to the state-owned casino in his plan.

From the start, though, Stephens' plan faces an uphill battle, underscoring how much has changed in the nine years since his father, Donald, shepherded legislation to pave the way for Rosemont's ill-fated Emerald casino.

For one, Stephens doesn't want to just bid on the state's last license, which is finally on the table after years of legal wrangling that killed the Emerald casino under allegations of mob ties.

Stephens' plan requires a new law that would not only direct the freed-up license to Rosemont but also erase requirements the casino sit on water and raise the gaming positions to 2,000 from 1,200.

Already House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has problems influencing where a casino will be located -- a job normally left up to the Illinois Gaming Board. Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, said Friday the speaker was "very concerned" about that aspect of the pitch.

The gaming board is set to start re-bidding the state's last casino license in the coming months, and many suburbs are expected to take a shot at it, including Rosemont's neighbor, Des Plaines.

Stephens says he has no current plans to bid on the license without the law changes he seeks. If the license goes to another suburb or Chicago, then it is conceivable the state could approve more casinos down the road to raise construction funds, including one in Rosemont.

Still, Madigan has been reluctant to support new casinos. And Senate President Emil Jones, a Chicago Democrat, has made it clear he wants one to go in the South suburbs while Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wants a state-run one in his city.

Yet, there are some good signs for Stephens' plan.

House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego calls the plan "intriguing," said spokesman David Dring. Many lawmakers have also been supportive of state-owned casinos to increase the tax dollars reaped from gamblers.

Stephens says he is also banking on Rosemont's prime location, near affluent suburbs, surrounded by hotels and next to traffic-heavy O'Hare International Airport.

"We think this is the best location, hands down," he said. "This is it. This is the football, let them take it."