A Chicago casino could be ready in less than a year

Illinois: Waukegan city kicks off search process for casino developer

At a news conference alongside Gov. JB Pritzker (center) on Monday touting the capital bill, Waukegan Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) said she wants the city casino to open “as soon as possible.”
United States
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The city has only 120 days to submit an owner or operator selected to the Illinois Gaming Board, so it started Wednesday a request for several qualifications, proposals and estimations for the project, especially the location. Applicants were given a July 22 deadline to present their concepts, and the plan is to select between two and four potential developers. The Board has until next Monday to hire a private consultant to conduct a “feasibility” study on a potential Chicago casino.

The city of Waukegan kicked off the search process Wednesday for the developers of a new casino authorized as part of the state’s recently approved gambling expansion. A request for qualifications and proposals released Wednesday afternoon asks for estimated costs of development, estimated revenues that will be generated and ideas for where and how a casino should be built.

The action marks “another step” toward redevelopment for the city of Waukegan, Mayor Sam Cunningham said. He emphasized that it will be “a very transparent and open process.” “A lot of eyes are going to be on Waukegan in the coming months, and so how we handle this is going to be critical,” he said, as reported by Chicago Tribune.

The city is moving fast in large part because of it has only 120 days to appear before the Illinois Gaming Board with an owner or operator selected. Waukegan’s request for proposals asks potential developers to detail their ideas for where the new casino could go and what it would be like, requiring such details as the number and types of gaming positions, the plan for including sports betting, the physical layout of the space, parking plans, and a description of associated facilities like restaurants, hotel, convention center, and retail or entertainment options. Applicants were given a deadline of 3 p.m. on July 22 to submit their concepts.

Cunningham has repeatedly pointed to a site at the Fountain Square shopping complex off routes 43 and 120 as a future home for a casino, the documentation released Wednesday also identifies other city-owned sites in the downtown or near the lakefront.

On Wednesday, Cunningham said he had been “closed-minded” about the location until recently, and while he still thinks the proximity to highways would be important, he said it made sense to him to leave the possibilities open to potential developers.

The city is also open to considering privately owned property or assisting the chosen developer in acquiring other parcels, according to the bid documents. The city’s ultimate goal is to pick a “financially successful development” that maximizes sales and gambling tax revenues for the city, provides a “significant number of quality jobs” to its residents and boosts the city’s property tax base, according to the documents.

They’ll also have to submit “a thorough and detailed” proposal that identifies where the development would be located, what the development would entail, the experience of the team behind the proposals and how the project would be financed. The city specifically asks about plans for community reinvestment, including local hiring and job training initiatives; commitments to hire union workers, buy local or work with businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans or disabled individuals; and sponsorships of local events.

Applicants are asked to explain and quantify the benefits to the city of Waukegan as well as Lake County and the neighboring communities of North Chicago and Park City, all of which are set to receive a portion of the local share of the gambling revenue. The 5% of gross receipts set aside for the Waukegan casino as a host community will be distributed under a formula under which Waukegan receives 70% of that total, North Chicago 15%, Park City 10% and Lake County 5%.

The law allows the land-based casino to have up to 2,000 gaming positions, with a minimum of 1,600 to start. It also allows sports wagering to take place on site.

After the proposals are submitted, they will be ranked by a city review team, according to city documents. The city expects to receive 10 to 12 proposals total, Cunningham said. A selection of finalists may be asked to submit additional written information, come in for interviews and attend site visits, according to the documents. The review team will make its recommendation to the Waukegan City Council, which will make the ultimate call.

The plan is to submit between two and four potential developers to the Illinois Gaming Board, all of which will have at least a portion of their proposals made available to the public, Cunningham said.


Chicago officials, who have sought a casino for more than a quarter of a century, could be held up for months as they weigh the benefits and survey possible locations for a city gambling site. “It could happen fairly quickly,” said state Sen. Terry Link, who has championed gaming in Springfield for two decades. “If all goes according to plan, you could see gambling at a temporary site in less than a year.”

The Chicago casino clock started ticking last Friday morning, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion into law as part of a $45 billion statewide capital plan. From that point, the Illinois Gaming Board has 10 days under the new law — until next Monday — to hire a private consultant to conduct a “feasibility” study on a potential Chicago casino, assessing how much revenue it would generate for the city.

The consultant then has 45 days to return that study to the city, which then has 90 days — or until late November, roughly in time for the state’s fall legislative session — to request any changes with a trailer bill to the law for the Chicago casino licensing process, according to Chicago Sun Times. “I don’t see why there would be any complaints. Chicago will be making a good profit off of it as it’s written,” Link said.

At a news conference alongside Pritzker on Monday touting the capital bill, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she wants the city casino to open “as soon as possible.” “Obviously we’ll be involved in the process,” Lightfoot said of the study. “I’m hoping we can get it done relatively soon, so we can start the process.”

Lightfoot has not said where she’d like the casino to go — another factor that leaves the casino timeline murky until the feasibility study comes back. That puts Chicago a step behind other cities lined up for new casinos, including Rockford and Waukegan, which already have named their sites and figure to present their proposals to the gaming board by late October, Link said.

But the Chicago casino is sure to dwarf any other in the state with its 4,000 gaming positions, double the 2,000 allotted to others. That’s up from the 1,200 positions that were allowed under previous casino legislation.

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