The Waukegan City Council voted during a special meeting Thursday to forward proposals targeted for Fountain Square from Full House Resorts, North Point Casino and Rivers Casino to the gaming board for further vetting and consideration.
A proposal from Potawatomi Casino Waukegan was left behind after garnering just two supporting votes from the nine-member council. Potawatomi announced Friday that it is sending a letter to the city requesting a formal reconsideration and a new vote on its proposal, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The Potawatomi proposal was ranked last in a numerically scored report from Johnson Consultants Inc. of Chicago, which was hired by the city to review potential developers for a Waukegan casino. The results were posted by the city on Oct. 11.
After Thursday’s meeting, Mayor Sam Cunningham said the city had no specific problems with Potawatomi, but he felt its last-place rankings in the consultant’s report played into the vote.
In a letter to the city on Friday, Jeffrey Crawford, attorney general of the Forest County Potawatomi Community, said the group believes the City Council violated the Open Meetings Act on Thursday by not allowing public comments after a member of the audience asked whether they would be heard.
The letter also says that the city’s consultant erred in both a formal report and in comments Monday by not considering supplemental materials provided by the casino group earlier this month in the report, leaving out that Potawatomi had further explained its economic redevelopment offer in the supplemental information, as well as a higher offer for the Fountain Square casino site.
“C.H. Johnson told the council that he was legally prohibited from considering any supplemental information or analysis submitted by the applicants. This is incorrect,” Crawford wrote in the letter. “The C.H. Johnson report was inaccurate and misleading. Several council members expressed serious concern over the process and the methodology of the study.
“Johnson could not explain how Potawatomi was rated first or second in nearly every financial category and yet he ranked Potawatomi last,” the letter added. "Although Mr. Johnson said his report was scored using simple mathematics, his final rankings are in fact mathematically impossible.”
George Ermert, a Potawatomi spokesman, said Friday that Potawatomi Casino Waukegan has a letter signed by three City Council members stating that they wish to have the issue reconsidered at Monday’s council meeting. He added he believes that fulfills requirements for the proposal to be revisited.
Cunningham said Friday afternoon that he had not yet seen the letter from Potawatomi, but that he has been told they are seeking a reconsideration vote. According to Cunningham, if there is least one alderman who voted against the proposal who wants it to be reconsidered, it must be put back up for a new vote.
He added if that happens, though, then the other bidders, although they were already approved, would also be given the opportunity to have new information heard by the council.
After the report was released, both Potawatomi and Rivers representatives had said they had submitted supplemental information that was significant and should have been considered, but it was not included in the report and its rankings.
Consultant Charles Johnson told the council Thursday that the city was fortunate to have four bidders that, in his firm’s consideration, were all able to deliver what Waukegan is seeking in a casino.
But Johnson said he could not consider the supplemental submissions because it allows bidders to adjust their offers after seeing what the competition had bid. He did urge the gaming board to consider the supplemental information in making its decision.
Rivers officials issued a statement immediately after Thursday’s meeting expressing gratitude for being included.
“We thank the city for forwarding our bid and look forward to sharing with the Illinois Gaming Board why our vision for Waukegan is in the best interest of the residents, businesses and taxpayers of Waukegan, Lake County and the State of Illinois,” the statement said.
North Point also issued a statement on being selected for gaming board consideration.
“We appreciate the support we have received from the community and thank the City of Waukegan for the confidence they placed in North Point Casino,” Warner Gaming CEO Bill Warner said. “Our team looks forward to the next steps before the Illinois Gaming Board and will continue advocating for our plan to build a world-class entertainment destination in Waukegan.”
Warner Gaming would operate and manage North Point Casino if it is selected.
Full House and North Point, which came in first and second in the consultant’s report, each received six supporting votes from the council. Rivers received five yes votes, with Potawatomi, ranked last in the report, receiving only two.
Some aldermen said they were not pleased with the procedure used to decide on the finalists. Ald. Lynn Florian, 8th, said the information in the report showed that both Potawatomi and Rivers scored well throughout the reports on important issues such as revenue and jobs, but that didn’t seem to be reflected in the rankings, which brought applause from many in attendance.
Johnson responded that the final rankings were based on “simple mathematics.” He also said that in addition to those issues, he was looking at proposals that were right for the area based on both the current market and what the city has said it wants.
The council also passed a resolution following the casino votes that requests the gaming board, in addition to carefully vetting the proposed operators and looking at the economic bottom lines, to consider issues important to the Waukegan area.
The motion specifically mentions that the city would like to see a proposal that provides property tax relief; enhances property values; provides career-level jobs, especially for Waukegan residents; creates union jobs during and after construction; provides tourism growth; and uses building techniques that reduce the use of fossil fuels.
In addition to the votes and the motion, the city will forward the comments it has received from residents about the casino proposals, city officials said. Recommendations from Waukegan are due before the gaming board by Oct. 25.
Some residents had called on aldermen who received recent campaign donations from former state Sen. Michael Bond or any of his operations to recuse themselves from voting because Bond is involved with the North Point proposal, but all alderman voted Thursday on all four proposals.
Warner Gaming teamed up with Tap Room Gaming owner Bond for its North Point proposal, according to news releases. Bond was involved in an unprecedented level of spending during the Waukegan aldermanic races this spring, according to campaign records.
Of the nearly $400,000 donated to aldermanic candidates across Waukegan’s nine wards since December 2018, 85% came from four organizations tied to Bond or the video gambling industry, according to a News-Sun analysis of state-mandated campaign disclosure forms. Of the six candidates that received money from these groups, four won or returned to seats on the council: Sylvia Sims Bolton, 1st; Patrick Seger, 2nd; Roudell Kirkwood, 4th; and Keith Turner, 6th.
Cunningham said after the meeting he is “very proud” that Waukegan will be part of an economic turnaround through the casino project. He noted that representatives of North Chicago, which will also benefit from a future casino if it is approved, were present at the meeting, and that Park City would also receive a financial boost from the project.
As for which operator candidate he would like to see get the license, the mayor said “I don’t have a personal preference.”
A resolution supporting Full House passed 6-3, with votes in favor coming from aldermen Sylvia Sims Bolton, 1st; Patrick Seger, 2nd; Gregory Mosio, 3rd; Roudell Kirkwood, 4th; Edith Newsome, 5th; and Keith Turner, 6th. Voting against Full House were Felix Rivera, 7th; Lynn Florian, 8th; and Ann Taylor, 9th.
The vote on the North Point proposal was identical.
A resolution for Rivers passed 5-4, with Bolton, Seger, Kirkwood, Newsome and Turner voting in favor and Mosio, Rivera, Florian and Taylor voting no.
A resolution to send the Potawatomi to the gaming board failed 2-7, with Mosio and Newsome voting in favor, while Bolton, Seger, Kirkwood, Turner, Rivera, Florian and Taylor voting in opposition.