Unlike Gov. Pat Quinn, I’m not worried that the new gambling bill will turn Illinois into the “Las Vegas of the Midwest.” I think Las Vegas should be in the Midwest. I’ve been to Nevada four times, so I can tell you, the desert is a terrible place for a tourist attraction.
There’s nothing to look at in Nevada. Nevada looks like Iowa, if a giant scraper shaved away all the grass, trees and farms. There’s no water. Las Vegas is sticking its straw into the overburdened Colorado River. Nevada legalized gambling because that was the only way to lure anyone to its parched Gologotha, which a century ago was populated only by 90,000 senile silver miners.
Las Vegas is one endless victory of money over taste. Outside the casinos, there’s nothing to do but eat in overpriced Asian restaurants and buy overpriced tickets to shows by such undertalented entertainers as Barry Manilow and Carrot Top.
Chicago has a culture beyond gambling, which immediately makes it a more attractive vacation spot. This summer, we’ve got Lollapalooza, starring Eminem, who had a number-one hit last year, making him 35 times more relevant than Mr. Manilow. We’ve got Alinea, an overpriced restaurant that’s actually worth the price, having been named the number one beanery in North America. We’ve got American Gothic. We have a dinosaur. We have grass, and we have trees that don’t grow out of a sidewalk. Chicago’s appeal transcends gambling. If you add gambling, it’s appeal becomes transcendent.
The only danger to becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest is that the bad taste of gamblers will degrade our local culture. Middle-aged acts now safely sequestered in Indiana’s Horseshoe Casino -- ZZ Top, Roger Daltrey, INXS -- may start playing Chicago’s casino. Even Carrot Top may come to Chicago.
But Illinois is broke. If a series of Barry Manilow concerts is the price of returning Illinois to solvency, that’s the price we’ll have to pay.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!