Now that the Illinois legislature has legalized casino development in Chicago, the race is on to determine which locales will be chosen to receive the go-ahead to start the process of casino development.
Two south suburban towns have already entered the race and another four are expected to throw their cards in as the state deadline for proposals draws near.
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One south suburb, Lynwood, has invited representatives from the Ho-Chunk Nation to submit a proposal to establish a casino in their community. Ho-Chunk is looking at the possibility of building a property north of Glenwood Dyer Road, just off Route 394. Ho-Chunk is based in Wisconsin. Their proposal includes building a casino along with a 20-story luxury hotel, retail space, restaurants and bars near the Southland Center sports complex which they currently own. The estimated cost of development is $380 million.
Ho-Chunk Nation District 4 Legislator Paul J. Fox said in a statement that “This is an important opportunity to spur economic development growth and create jobs in the south suburbs and we have a proven track record of getting it right. Over the last 15 years, we have built strong relationships in the region, as demonstrated by the development and operation of the Southland Center, and we are committed to strengthening those ties and deepening that investment.”
Ho-Chunk Nation spokesman Ryan McLaughlin, said that the tribe has been “exploring the possibility of opening a new facility in Lynwood…..The Ho-Chunk Nation is proud to consider the Village of Lynwood home and has spent the last 15 years investing in the future of the community, as demonstrated by the development of the Southland Center, a regional state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex. While a final decision about whether to proceed has not been made, we plan to make that decision very soon.”
Ho-Chunk Nation presently operates six casino entertainment facilities. If its proposal is approved, and if Lynwood is chosen as the south suburb best suited to receive a casino license, Lynwood would be its 7th casino property.
Illinois Gambling Expansion
The Illinois Gambling Expansion Act, which was signed into Law this summer, will allow for six new casino licenses. One will be earmarked for South Cook county where several townships are vying for that license. Before a casino operator can apply to the Illinois Gaming Board for a license, they must receive approval from a host town. Observers have already said that they believe that Lynwood trustees will vote to approve the Ho-Chunk proposal.
Their closest competitor is Alabama-based group Wind Creek Hospitality which is eying a site that straddles the border of Homewood and East Hazel Crest. The group says that this prime real estate near 175th Street and Halsted just off Interstate 80, will offer “the best site” for the state to draw in gamblers from across the region, including from Indiana.
Wind Creek is affiliated with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. They already operate 10 gambling operations including sites in Alabama, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Florida and Curacao. Wind Creek’s plan calls for a 64,000-square-foot casino floor with an entertainment center, bars, restaurants and a “skyline lounge". They also want to build a 251-room luxury hotel. Wind Creek believes that their development could ultimately create 800 full-time jobs.
Brent Pinkston, Wind Creek chief operating officer, said “East Hazel Crest and Homewood are two strong and stable communities, with visionary leadership. We believe this partnership and the prime, easy-to-access location creates a solid foundation for the quality casino and entertainment complex we hope to develop — one that will maximize revenue and bring sustained benefits to the entire south suburban region.”
According to Illinois state law, 5% of the casino’s gross revenue will be funneled directly to the host communities. Another 3% will be divided among dozens of south suburbs. East Hazel Crest will keep slightly more than half of the remaining 2% with the rest going to Homewood. If the casino hits its projections of bringing in more than $200 million in annual gross revenue, that could net East Hazel Crest up to $2 million annually. Hofeld said that that money would be set aside for the city to hire firefighters and develop capital projects.
East Hazel Crest is expected to approve Wind Creek’s proposal while Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams said that his town plans to move forward with the Ho-Chunk proposal.
Mayors of Country Club Hills and Calumet City have indicated that their towns will also vie for the casino.
Matteson is also offering a proposal for a casino. The south suburb would, if their proposal is accepted, build the casino, along with a high-end restaurant, convention space and hotel, in partnership with the industry investor Rob Miller and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma at Harlem Avenue and Lincoln Highway.
Matteson Village President Sheila Chalmers-Currin said “I believe this project will be an asset not just to Matteson, but to the entire Southland Region. After interviewing multiple casino operators, we felt the team led by the Choctaw Nation provided the best combination of experience, vision, community engagement and a financially feasible plan.”
Chalmers-Currin said the proposal includes partnerships with minority-owned businesses and would include an area dedicated to the multicultural history of the south suburbs. Chalmers-Currin said the group has an option to acquire 35 acres which is owned by an affiliate of Wintrust Bank. Chalmers-Currin said that she would like to see the revenue-sharing arrangement that is currently in place for the south suburbs modified to allow for the revenue to support a new needed trauma center.
The Matteson site is the best of all the south suburban options, said, Chalmers-Currin, because it houses about 1.3 million residents which is the largest number of people living within a 30-minute drive that are not served by a casino. “There is no doubt that our proposed site is the absolute best location in southern Cook County. It borders neighboring Will County and offers the total convenience of motorists through its unique access to I-57 and I-80.”
The Choctaw Nation currently operates 22 sites throughout North America. They include gambling arenas, hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues that operate in conjunction with the casinos.
The main drawback of the Matteson site is that it’s closer to the Joliet casinos than the other south suburban sites that are in the running for a license. It’s also close to Tinley Park, which is scheduled to build a combined casino and racetrack.
Tinley Park was believed to be a shoe-in for a casino-racetrack development but a recent report in the Chicago Tribune may have derailed that project. The report stated that Rick Heidner, the village’s partner in the “racino,” is tied to a banking family that is connected to mob figures. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the FBI executed a search warrant on the office of state Senator Martin Sandoval in a search for documents related to Heidner.