CHICAGO -- It sounds like a can't-miss deal -- a new casino within sight of one of the world's busiest airports.
But gambling regulators' decision to allow the casino in a suburb whose mayor may -- or may not -- have ties to organized crime has set off an investigation and a storm of criticism, with both sides seemingly setting a record for the use of the term "mobbed-up" in a public debate.
At issue is a plan to build a casino in Rosemont, next to O'Hare International Airport, with its millions of travelers per year. Developers and politicians are positively drooling over the prospect of billions in profits and tax revenue. But now, the only people who seem happy about the mess are gambling opponents. "I call it the briar patch," said the Rev. Tom Grey, an antigambling activist. "Everyone who touches this gets stuck."
The firestorm began March 15 when the Illinois Gaming Board chose Mississippi-based Isle of Capri Casinos to build in Rosemont, arguing its bid of $518 million and the site's potential to tap the convention and travel market, as well as the Chicago population, were best for the state. But the board acted over the recommendation of its own staff, which was worried about accusations that Rosemont's mayor, Don Stephens, a longtime political powerbroker, had mob ties. The staff also had concerns about Isle of Capri's finances.
Company executives have insisted that their finances are healthy, and the mayor has denied he is a crook, but the state attorney general suggested both may be unsuitable for a casino and has threatened to kill the deal.
Also, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich has appointed a former deputy US attorney general to investigate the deal.
In explaining the board's vote, the chairman, Elzie Higginbottom, said the decision was about tax revenue. He said that it is the regulators' job to keep organized crime out.
"If we move forward with this facility, it will not be mobbed-up," he said. "And if you put a facility anywhere and it is not appropriately and properly regulated, the mob will move in. They are mobile, ladies and gentlemen."
The project would be Illinois's 10th casino. Isle of Capri's president, Timothy M. Hinkley said Rosemont is still the best location in the United States for a casino. He defended his company, which operates casinos in five states, and said it should not be tainted by questions about Rosemont's mayor. "You don't get 17 licenses just by being good guys; you prove yourself every single time," Hinkley said.
In 2001, the Gaming Board rejected an attempt to open a casino in Rosemont. The board said the Emerald Casino project was turned down, in part, because some shareholders had ties to organized crime. One of those shareholders was the Sherri Boscarino Trust. Nick Boscarino, Sherri's husband, was convicted in February in a scheme to defraud Rosemont. Internal Gaming Board documents released to the media show that Stephens, Nick Boscarino, and members of the family of late Chicago mob boss William "Willie Potatoes" Daddano were all investors in a company that leases equipment at trade shows.
Stephens insisted he washed stopped associating Nick Boscarino once he found out about the criminal charges, which were unrelated to the equipment-leasing company. "Rosemont has never been mobbed-up, is not ever mobbed-up, nor will it ever be mobbed-up," said Rosemont attorney Robert Stephenson.