About the only thing missing from presentations Wednesday by the four applicants for a casino license in Southland Cook County was the declaration of the childhood phrase, “One, two, three, four, I declare a border war!”
The promise to keep gaming tax revenue dollars in Illinois and out of Indiana while building communities was a prevailing theme in pitches made to the Illinois Gaming Board, as the south suburbs of Chicago took a notable step forward toward having their own casino.
Suburban Cook County was one of six locations awarded a casino license when Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law a massive gaming expansion bill that also legalized sports wagering in June 2019. Like Waukegan, the Southland area’s competitive bidding process required the IGB to procure a financial analyst, which slowed the timeline — as did the COVID-19 pandemic — in reducing the list of finalists from four to three for public presentations.
The slow pace of progress has frustrated community leaders in the area. State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, whose district encompasses all four applicant locations, sent a letter to Pritzker in August asking him to “spur [the] IGB into action.”
Following a closed-session meeting after the final presentation Wednesday, the board did not vote on the three finalists. That leaves the quartet of applicants in suspense for at least another week until the state gaming agency meets again next Wednesday. IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter said the three finalists could be announced at that meeting, and he added the IGB remains on track to select a winner who is “preliminary suitable” for the casino license by January.
Adding vitality to Homewood, East Hazel Crest
Wind Creek, which operates 10 casinos in four states and the Caribbean as the gaming entity for the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, was the first group to present to the IGB. The video opening its presentation offered the first clue of Indiana’s presence in the proceedings, as a computer-generated Tesla with Indiana license plates could be seen driving up to the casino’s front entrance.
Donna Moore, who fronted Wind Creek’s presentation, suggested the proposed $440 million casino and hotel would produce the highest annual gaming revenue among the four finalists at $156 million, a figure reached by Global Market Advisors and Innovation Group. She also promised that “Wind Creek Illinois won’t just build a casino” along the Homewood and East Hazel Crest borders, but “they will build a community with the vitality borne of job creation, community investment, and sustained operational excellence.”
Wind Creek Chief Operating Officer Brent Pinkston touted the proposed location just off I-80, I-294, and Halsted Road as attractive since approximately 80 million vehicles traverse the area on an annual basis. Wind Creek would have a 60-foot tall pylon sign with 750 square feet of LED panels to create brand awareness. Pinkston also noted the property is “less than 10 minutes and one turn from the Indiana state line and within a 30-minute drive from 400,000 Indiana residents,” offering the promise of an inflow of out-of-state gambling dollars.
Wind Creek committed to pre-purchasing the maximum 2,000 gaming positions available for the casino, with 1,500 to be used in the opening phase, and it would build a 252-room hotel with 53 suites in the first phase of construction. The venue would also have six restaurants and a rooftop lounge offering views of the Chicago skyline. Wind Creek expected the project to create 1,400 jobs, including 600 for construction and 800 full-time positions.
Pinkston said Wind Creek would not build a temporary casino, opting to build a permanent one and the hotel concurrently, with a likely construction start date of spring 2022. He estimated it would take 15 months for casino construction, and an additional nine months to finish the hotel.
Delaware North could return via Calumet City
Southland Live was the second presenter, with Calumet City looking to repurpose for its gaming venue the area around the River Oaks shopping center just off I-94 that is less than two miles from the state line. Calumet City was the lone bidder not to partner with a tribal gaming outlet, opting for private gaming company Delaware North as its casino partner.
Delaware North has prior casino gaming experience in Illinois, having operated Jumer’s Casino in Rock Island near the Iowa border and currently licensed in the state via Gaming and Entertainment Management. It sold that property to Twin Rivers in October 2020 for $120 million in cash, a deal Delaware North President Brian Hansberry labeled “an opportunistic sale” after noting his group is “very comfortable” returning to the Illinois casino gaming scene.
Southland Live Project Manager Terry Hughes noted River Oaks is a prime location, recognized as a regional entity that attracts customers from both states. He added Calumet City’s location would also provide the “least cannibalization of currently existing Illinois casinos.” The project has the backing of Calumet City Mayor Thaddeus Jones.
Hughes called River Oaks “ripe for reinvestment” and the “catalyst for reimagining the entire mall and turning the property into a full-service premiere and hospitality destination” that would include sports fields, shopping and restaurants.
Delaware North Retail General Manager Osi Imomoh said the group would open a temporary casino in the vacant Carson Pirie Scott store at River Oaks within three months of being awarded the license. It would have 800 slot machines and the potential to generate $52 million in tax revenue while creating 300 jobs.
The permanent casino has a projected opening date of 2024 and would be adjacent to the temporary facility. There was a tax revenue projection of $78 million for the initial year of operation and nearly $600 million through the first five years of operation up to 2028. The $275 million project, which would span 150,000 square feet of gaming space and include an entertainment complex, would create up to 1,200 construction jobs and 1,150 new permanent jobs. The casino would have 1,200 slots and 35 table games.
South Suburban eyes renewal in Matteson
Matteson Village President Sheila Chalmers-Currin headlined the third presentation, which has the village partnering with the Oklahoma-based Choctaw Nation to build a casino on the grounds of the former Lincoln Mall. The casino is part of a broad urban renewal designed to lessen the tax burden for residents and professionals and “rejuvenate the economic engine of the Southland,” according to Chalmers-Currin.
“We’re distressed in the south suburbs,” added corporate executive and community organizer Octavia Matthews in one of the videos during South Suburban’s presentation, “and we need the opportunity to pour back into the community.”
Mayors in surrounding areas are backing the South Suburban Development bid, and Matteson has pledged half of its gaming tax receipts toward regional priorities in the 42 communities that make up the Southland area.
Video testimony from local residents promoted the success of small businesses, a thriving African-American community, and a central location that could help avoid cannibalizing the gaming industry. The proposed venue is approximately 30 miles from downtown Chicago, 30 miles from Indiana, and 30 miles from Joliet, which has two casinos.
The area around Lincoln Mall is already cleared out, with the casino expected to support a Market Square Crossing mixed-use concept that would include small shops, restaurants, and family entertainment spanning 35 acres.
The Choctaw Nation owns 22 casinos as part of a $2 billion gaming and touring business, with most of its business originating from neighboring Texas. It has partnered with a local construction company for the $200 million project and recruited 17 African-American investors among a minority group that would hold 17% ownership in the casino.
A temporary casino would be located in the meeting space attached to a Holiday Inn located southeast of I-57 and U.S. Route 30, and it is proposed to be open within six months of being awarded the license. The permanent casino would have 123,000 square feet of gaming space, and a second phase would include a 200-room hotel and 33,000-square-foot entertainment center as part of a complex that would eventually contain 1,952 gaming positions.
Ho-Chunk looks to establish Lynwood roots
Ho-Chunk Nation is a regionally known name through its six casinos in neighboring Wisconsin, most notably in the Wisconsin Dells travel destination north of Madison. It is also building a seventh casino in Beloit, near the Illinois state line, that will be a direct competitor to the Hard Rock Casino currently under construction in Rockford.
Ho-Chunk previously unveiled its plans for a $300 million casino on land it owns in Lynwood just off I-394 and the Glenwood-Dyer Road interchange in 2019. While the price tag has since climbed to $390 million, the tribe touted its gaming experience as a key selling point to the board, as well as a strong community bond created through its sports complex.
That complex also is an important pivot point of Southland Ho-Chunk’s bid, as it would be retrofitted to serve as the temporary casino and promoted on the group’s website to lure Indiana residents across the state line.
“We have been in the community for over 15 years, closer to 20,” said Rob Reider, Ho-Chunk Nation chief operating officer. “The south suburbs are similar to the communities where the nation currently operates our six gaming facilities. We strongly believe that we can help lead the Southland community to more prosperous times.”
Ho-Chunk Executive Director John Phillip outlined a development project that would start with the construction of the temporary casino with 15,000 square feet of gaming space, 250 slot machines, and 15 table games. It would create 180 construction jobs and 250 permanent casino ones and open within four months of being granted the license.
The second phase — the main portion of the project — would include the permanent casino and hotel to include 1,500 slot machines and 70 table games to go with a 300-room, four-diamond hotel tower with multiple restaurants and bar venues. Phillip projected 1,000 construction jobs and 1,100 permanent casino positions in this phase, expected to take between 19 and 22 months. The 20-story tower would be visible from I-394.
IGB members inquired about support for the project since newly elected Lynwood Mayor Jada Curry is not fully supportive of the casino and voted against it as a trustee in 2019, when the village adopted a resolution in support of the tribe.
Indiana not playing about gaming revenue
The Hoosier State has not been shy about competing with Illinois for gaming dollars, even as a prospective casino in downtown Chicago looms on the horizon. A third casino on the northwest side of Indiana — Hard Rock Northern Indiana in Gary — opened in May to join Horseshoe Hammond and Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. All three are less than an hour’s drive from the Loop when traffic is timed right, and the trio draw patrons from the area near the state line and where Wednesday’s applicants hope to have their own gaming venue.
The percentage of gaming revenue that Indiana casinos derive from Illinois residents is unknown, but there is no denying those bordering casinos are doing quite well. Horseshoe, Hard Rock, and Ameristar ranked first, second, and fourth, respectively, among Indiana’s 12 casinos and racinos for adjusted gaming revenue in the Indiana Gaming Commission’s September report. They generated a combined $78.5 million, and they also have paid $49.4 million in taxes through the first nine months of 2021.
In addition to casino gaming, both Horseshoe and Ameristar currently have mobile sports betting tethers that lure Illinois bettors over the state line for convenience since Illinois currently has in-person registration as a requirement to obtain access for mobile sports wagering. Ameristar is the bigger beneficiary since DraftKings is its primary skin, and Chicago-area bettors in Illinois who did not download that app while Pritzker’s Executive Order 2020-41 was in effect must now drive five hours to Casino Queen in East St. Louis along the Missouri border to do so.