Chicago Mayoral Hopeful: Casino, Marijuana Money Could Help City’s Pension Woes

Gery Chico thinks the two revenue streams could chip away up to $1 billion per year.

One of Chicago’s leading mayoral candidates said that revenue from casinos and legalized marijuana could help put a dent in the city’s $28 billion pension deficit.

Attorney Gery Chico, a Democratic City Hall veteran and the best-known Hispanic contender in the race, told the City Club of Chicago he would seek to use the money from the two elements if elected to “start hacking away” at the pension deficit “without putting the 15th brick on the back of the taxpayer.” Those initiatives, he said, could reduce up to $1 billion of the Windy City’s pension funding gap, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“An overwhelming number of Chicagoans support the legalization of marijuana—and I do, too,” said Chico, one of 15 candidates hoping to succeed Rahm Emanuel as mayor in the 2019 election. Chico came in second behind Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral contest, and later endorsed Emanuel, who is not seeking a third term next year.

Chico projected up to $300 million of the gambling pot would come from a Chicago casino each year, and although recreational marijuana isn’t legal in Chicago (medicinal is), he called its ratification “inevitable.” Chico estimated between $350 million and $700 million would be provided by the cannabis industry for the state of Illinois.

He said that the city can’t afford to “leave a dime on the table” regarding its poor funding. “And if that means we need a new home-rule tax on top of what the state’s thinking about, that’s what we need to be in there fighting for.”

The state is currently entertaining a $10 billion bond sale to help cover the retirement hole. Emanuel is leaving the pension problem to his successor.  One of Emanuel’s pension proposals was to raise property taxes, but Chico doesn’t want to go that route, although he didn’t rule it out completely.

“I’m not going to impulsively hit the pedal on property taxes. That’s not fair to Chicagoans,” he said, adding that he is 100% “committed to looking for alternative sources of revenue first before going to taxpayers to foot the bill.”

Chico, once the chief of staff to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, also ran for US Senate in 2004 and Chicago mayor in 2011. He said he wants to re-examine the cases of people serving time for marijuana possession if he wins. Daley’s brother, Bill, is running for mayor as well in 2019.

“It makes no sense to have people burdened with criminal records for something we’ve now made legal, Chico said.

As for the casino, Chicago does not yet have one, but Democrat J.B. Pritzker, who is favored to win against Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, in next week’s election, has expressed interest in legalizing gaming.

 “This idea has been discussed for years,” said Chico. “And since our legislature will likely be considering sports betting now, it’s time to seize the opportunity and see if we can do this the right way in Chicago instead of simply taxing our citizens. Let’s stop sending the Illinois gambling dollars to Indiana.”

The mayoral candidate, who also wants to invest the city’s dollars in low-income neighborhoods, also talks up the employment opportunities a casino could create.

“This kind of project would create thousands of construction and permanent jobs for our residents,” he said, adding that the gambling den would also attract “even more tourists.”

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