Six prospective casino developers submitted their proposals by Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline, the city’s director of planning and economic development said. While city staff did not release any details about the proposals as of Monday afternoon, two teams announced they’re in the running.
A gambling expansion the Illinois legislature approved earlier this year authorized new casinos in Waukegan, Chicago, Rockford, Danville, Williamson County and an as-yet-undetermined South suburb in Cook County. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the legislation in June.
They include Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, which operates a casino in Milwaukee; and Warner Gaming, which has teamed up with Tap Room Gaming owner and former state Sen. Michael Bond for its proposal, according to news releases and interviews cited by Chicago Tribune.
Bond, who was at the center of an unprecedented level of spending during the Waukegan aldermanic races this spring, said in an interview Monday he expects the city’s selection process to be “fair, open and transparent."
He said while he has not seen the other proposals, he thinks the one submitted by his team has a “winning formula” with its emphasis on partnerships with local restaurants, its commitment to hiring locally and the “great team” they’ve put together. Bond has teamed up with Warner Gaming, which takes a locally specific approach to developing its facilities, Chief Executive Officer Bill Warner said.
Potawatomi Hotel & Casino pitched itself in a news release Monday as an experienced operator of a “first-class entertainment experience," touting its Milwaukee casino as one of the largest entertainment destinations in the Midwest with 6 million annual visitors.
"Having successfully operated in this gaming market for several decades, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino is a natural fit to develop this project and create the entertainment destination that Waukegan is seeking,” CEO and General Manager Rodney Ferguson said in the press release. The release also pointed to Waukegan’s history with the Potawatomi, noting the name Waukegan came from the Potawatomi word for “trading post.”
The next step in Waukegan’s search for a casino developer is an initial vetting process by staff, who are expected to finalize a short list around August 26, according to city staff and the city’s bidding documents. Interviews of the remaining candidates are set to follow after Labor Day with a public hearing planned for late September.
The finalists, chosen by the Waukegan City Council at a later meeting, will then be forwarded on to the Illinois Gaming Board, according to Long and the addendum. The city’s deadline to make those recommendations is October 25.
If the city does choose to forward several potential options to the Illinois Gaming Board, that could push back “pretty significantly” construction on the new casino and its ultimate opening, Warner said. He added that his team would be able to get a temporary casino — an option under the gambling expansion approved by the state — up and running within four months of receiving the license from the state, but only if they’re the city’s only pick.
Under that scenario, they could also move forward with construction on the permanent site as early as April 2020, Bond said. If the city decides to send multiple choices to the state, that timeline would like likely be pushed back as much as a year and a half. That’s because moving forward requires a significant investment that is hard to justify if they might not be the ultimate license holder, Warner said, noting that the state will be vetting not just Waukegan’s candidates but other casino proposals across the state.