Year later, casino neither jackpot nor bust for Park Ridge
Park Ridge officials say Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has not had any impact on the community since its July 2011 opening. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: November 5, 2012 6:19AM
PARK RIDGE — When Park Ridge city officials learned three years ago that a casino was slated to open in the city’s back yard, concerns about spikes in traffic and crime — not to mention the need for additional police service — were immediately expressed.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in Park Ridge who doesn’t believe we won’t have increased costs,” 2nd Ward Alderman Rich DiPietro said during a November 2009 City Council meeting that included attendance by an Illinois Gaming Board attorney.
But today, a little more than a year since Rivers Casino’s grand opening caused gridlock on River Road, city officials acknowledge that the slot machines just across the border aren’t producing the problems that were initially feared.
At the same time, they’re not cashing out noticeable benefits to the city either.
“As best I can tell, its had no impact at all, good or bad,” said Mayor David Schmidt who last year acknowledged that differing opinions existed in the city as to whether the casino would have unwanted consequences. At the time he suggested city officials “plan for it to have a negative impact and hope that it will not.”
Assigning police to monitor area roads, like Higgins Road and Devon Avenue, for increases in traffic to and from Rivers Casino, 3000 S. River Road, was one such way Park Ridge reacted, but Police Chief Frank Kaminski said there really has been no noticeable effect.
“We can’t see any correlation with a lot more accidents or a lot more traffic,” he said, adding that police “backed off” after about two months of traffic monitoring.
Schmidt believes the city of Des Plaines “made a concerted effort” of routing traffic north and south on River Road rather than east and west through Park Ridge.
There is also no evidence of casino-related crime, Kaminski added.
In May 2009, a study conducted by the Park Ridge Police Department found that 31 municipalities bordering eight Illinois towns with riverboat casinos reported no significant crime or traffic problems as a result of the gambling operations. DiPietro acknowledged that back in 2009 “a number of aldermen” had concerns about possible expenses related to traffic enforcement, but he is not aware of such a scenario occurring.
“We’re just happy it hasn’t,” DiPietro said. “That, I think, was a legitimate concern. It just never came.”
In a questionnaire he answered while being interviewed for a City Council vacancy this summer, 6th Ward Alderman Marc Mazzuca identified Rivers Casino as one of the “five most significant problems facing the city.” He said he would like to see data showing that traffic has not increased in Park Ridge, but also acknowledged that residents are not identifying the casino as a problem.
“It doesn’t appear to be the biggest issue in my neighborhood right now,” he said.
According to the casino, Rivers averages more than 10,000 visitors each day and, during its first year of operation, paid $129 million in gaming taxes — $19.7 million to the city of Des Plaines alone. More than 1,400 full-time employees are said to work for Rivers.
With so many visitors and money being spent, should the casino be used as a way for Park Ridge to market itself and attract shoppers and diners? Schmidt thinks this is a topic the city’s Economic Development Task Force could tackle, but Gail Haller, executive director of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce and a member of the task force, says it has not been discussed.
“I don’t know why it hasn’t come up,” she acknowledged. “It’s certainly a good marketing tool to get my mom here. She loves to go to the casino. I guess our concern is if we talk about all the wonderful things in Des Plaines and Rosemont people will start going to Des Plaines and Rosemont (instead of Park Ridge). We don’t even have a motel to put them up.”
Both Haller and Schmidt did state that they believe casino visitors generally stay on site, especially because of the restaurants available there.
“I don’t know how many people would be going to the casino and then heading somewhere else to shop and dine,” Schmidt said. “But if members of our business community think there’s an opening there, I’d be willing to consider it.”
Even the Park Ridge Senior Center, which has taken members on trips to out-of-state casinos, has not eyed Rivers as a day-trip destination, other than a January 2011 visit.
“We haven’t taken a trip there because it’s so close,” said Senior Center Manager Jennifer Elliott. “Most of the trips are for places the seniors won’t drive to.”
But Rivers Casino visits are not completely off the table, she added.
“I do hope to reach out to them in the future because I think a lot of our members do utilize the casino because it’s so close,” Elliott said.