An open letter to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, by Frank Fantini

The following is an open letter by Frank Fantini, CEO of Fantini Research and Publisher of Fantini's Gaming Report:   


            The report by Union Gaming Analytics might have thrown cold water on plans for a Chicago casino as outlined in recently enacted gaming legislation, but in doing so, the report has opened a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you.

            My proposal is for Illinois and Chicago to take the exact opposite approach. Instead of proposing what would amount to a slot barn with little to no likelihood of success, dream big. Go for a world-class integrated resort reflecting Chicago’s status as a world-class city.

            With a reasonable tax rate and assurance of a city monopoly, renown companies like Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts would eagerly compete to build an integrated resort that would be an international tourist attraction.

            Say to them: “Come on. Give us your best shot and whoever proposes a resort  that will be internationally iconic will get the license.”

            That is what Singapore did, and Las Vegas Sands invested $8 billion in building a property that features three high-rise luxury hotel towers supporting a SkyPark that spans all three.

            Marina Bay Sands in Singapore generated more than $3 billion in revenue last year. Think of what half of that would mean for Illinois. And Las Vegas Sands is currently planning a $3 billion expansion.

            In Macau, six casino companies have, and are, investing billions upon billions of dollars, and they’re doing it at approximately a 40 percent gaming tax.

The draw historically has been Asian high rollers who spend huge sums of money gambling. But the trend in Macau today is to build integrated resorts with compelling tourist attractions to appeal to the rapidly growing Chinese middle class and to tourists from throughout the vast Asia-Pacific region from Korea to Japan to Indonesia.

Las Vegas Sands flagship Venetian Macau generated $3.474 billion in revenue last year and it’s five Macau properties combined for $8.529 billion in revenue. No wonder the company, and its five competitors, are pouring in more billions of dollars to build resorts intended to make Macau the top tourist destination in Asia.

Consider Japan. The Big Three casino companies mentioned above all say they are willing to invest $8 billion to $10 billion for one of the three Japanese licenses, and that will be with a 30 percent gaming tax and plenty of restrictions aimed at guarding against problem gambling.

What would the big integrated resort companies be willing to invest in Chicago with the right economics? Maybe not as much as Singapore, Osaka or Macau, but you can bet it would be in the billions of dollars.

Two more things need to be part of this approach to making Chicago an international draw: 1) Escaping the fear about what an integrated resort would do to McCormick Place and 2) Putting the casino in the very best location for its success.

McCormick Place has nothing to fear from an integrated resort. In fact, the resort would make Chicago that much stronger a competitor for conventions.

Consider Las Vegas.  MGM Resorts has been steadily building convention space and is now up to nearly 4 million square feet, with 2 million square feet at Mandalay Bay alone.  Las Vegas Sands Expo Center is 1.7 million square feet.

What impact does this have on the Las Vegas Convention Center? It is investing $860 million on a project that includes adding 600,000 square feet of convention space to its current 2.2 million square feet.

In other words, more first-class convention space will make Chicago a more successful convention city.

Finally, the key to success is not high taxes and fees. It is in Chicago taking advantage of being an international, world-class city, and thereby generating far more economic benefit to the city and state than high taxes that preclude success.

Let the City of Big Shoulders be the City of Big Dreams. And accept no less.