Decision may finally be coming on south suburban Illinois casino license

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The Illinois Gaming Board is inching closer to selecting three finalists for a single south suburban Cook County casino license — nearly two full years after receiving four applications from interested companies and communities.

On Wednesday, the board spent some five hours listening to presentations from each of the casino license applicants, and their local supporters, before the board decided not to decide which of the four proposals to eliminate from consideration.

"The board is not prepared to do that at this time," said Marcus Fruchter, Illinois Gaming Board administrator.

Fruchter said the board potentially could reach a decision on selecting three, or fewer, finalists for the south suburban license at its Oct. 20 meeting.

Each of those entities then will have another opportunity to present their casino plans at a public hearing, and the finalists also will be invited to submit their best offers for the license to the board, including any up-front payments they're willing to make to the state on top of the multi-million dollar license fee.

Fruchter said the board possibly could reach a decision on awarding the south suburban casino license by January 2022, pending investor background checks and other required regulatory approvals.

The four casino applicants and their development plans are:

Calumet City (Southland Live Casino) — $275 million casino project with 1,200 slot machines and 35 table games in a new 150,000-square foot building adjacent to River Oaks Mall. A 200-room, 18-floor hotel would be built in year three of operations. Temporary casino in former vacant Carson Pirie Scott space at mall to open within 90 days of licensing. Permanent facility opens in 2024.

Homewood (Wind Creek Illinois Casino) — $440 million casino and luxury hotel with 1,350 slot machines and 56 table games in a new 70,000-square foot gaming space immediately south of Interstate 80-294 at Halsted Street. High-rise hotel would have 252 rooms, 53 suites, and an outdoor skybar with views of downtown Chicago. Second hotel and expansion to 2,000 slot machines planned for phase II, sometime after casino opens in mid-2023. No temporary casino.

Lynwood (Ho-Chunk Casino) — $390 million casino and hotel development with 1,500 slot machines and 70 table games adjacent to the Ho-Chunk sports complex at Illinois 394 and Glenwood-Lansing Road. Hotel tower would stand 20 stories and include 300 rooms; sports facilities to be expanded with golf simulator, rock climbing wall, and pickleball courts. Temporary casino to open at site within 120 days of licensing. Permanent facility within two years.

Matteson (Matteson Casino) — $300 million casino project with 1,300 slot machines and 42 table games located in a 123,000 square foot building at the former Lincoln Mall site at U.S. 30 and Cicero Avenue. A 200 room hotel and expansion to 1,950 slots may be added in possible Phase II. Temporary casino at nearby Holiday Inn convention center to open within six months of licensing. Permanent facility by mid-2023.

Each of the plans also call for creating between 600 and 1,000 full-time jobs at the casino and various ancillary developments, including restaurants, music performance venues, and meeting spaces, with a special focus on hiring minorities and local employees.

In addition, several of the applicants pledged to aggressively market their properties to try to lure back Illinois gamblers used to trying their luck at Northwest Indiana casinos, and to entice Hoosiers to cross the state line to visit a new Illinois casino property.

The slow pace of the Illinois casino approval process stands in stark contrast to Indiana where state lawmakers in 2019 authorized the relocation of the Gary casino about one month prior to Illinois lawmakers establishing the south suburban casino license.

The $300 million Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana opened May 14 adjacent to Interstate 80-94 at Burr Street in Gary, notwithstanding construction delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second Gary casino license, which state lawmakers relocated to Terre Haute, is set to be reissued next month by the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC), after the initial license holder failed to begin casino construction in the west-central Indiana city during a 13-month period.

If the IGC keeps to its schedule, the total time elapsed from the second application deadline to the selection of a new Terre Haute casino license holder will be less than three months.

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