A fter the Illinois Gaming Board did not receive bids from investment banks it planned to hire to help vet applicants, a review of applications for a south suburban casino license has again been postponed. With four sites in the south suburbs vying for one license, the setback comes after applicants learned last fall, at a point when they hoped the gaming board was close to making a decision, that the review process for evaluating proposals had been pushed back due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chicago Tribune reports. The gaming board had, in early December, put out a request for proposals seeking investment banks and other experts to review matters including a particular casino project’s economic impact, potential job creation, and overall financial projections for each project. Bids were due to be opened on Jan. 8, but no submissions were received, Marcus Fruchter, the board’s administrator, said at a Jan. 27 gaming board meeting. He told board members a revised proposal would be drafted and issued to prospective bidders, but it was not clear when that would happen. The Illinois General Assembly in May 2019 approved legislation expanding the number of casino licenses throughout the state from the current 10. Along with the south suburban licenses, additional licenses were designated for Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Waukegan and Williamson County. The legislation had also provided for a combination horse racing track and casino, or racino, which had at one point been proposed for the former Tinley Park Mental Health Center. Along with the legalization of recreational marijuana, the revenue generated from the massive expansion of gambling in Illinois is expected to help fund the state’s $45 billion Rebuild Illinois capital spending plan. Four sites are competing for the coveted south suburban land-based casino license: Calumet City has proposed, along with partner Delaware North, using part of the River Oaks shopping center at Torrence Avenue east of Interstate 94, for a casino and related development. Wind Creek LLC, whose partners includes the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, has proposed a casino on property straddling the border of East Hazel Crest and Homewood, at the interchange of Halsted Street and Interstate 80/294. Lynwood and its partner, the Ho-Chunk Nation, propose a casino just east of Illinois 394 and north of the interchange with Glenwood-Dyer Road. Matteson has partnered with the Choctaw Nation, of Oklahoma, for a casino at the former Lincoln Mall site at U.S. 30 and Cicero Avenue. Late last October the applicants learned that a decision on awarding a license had been delayed, and that once the gaming board hired an investment banker to help in the review process it could be another six months before a finding of “preliminary suitability” would be made. The gaming board was supposed to have made a decision on the south suburban license within 12 months of receiving the applications, and that deadline was at the end of October. However, the board could, under the gambling expansion law, provide written explanations of a delay to the applicants, which the board did. Fruchter, at the October meeting, said some aspects of the application review process were “difficult and at times impossible” because of the pandemic. The delay comes as a land-based Indiana casino close to the south suburbs, Hard Rock Casino off Interstate 80/94 and Burr Street in Gary, expects to open in mid-April. The $300 million project will include 1,600 slot machines and 80 table games. Contestants for the south suburban casino, such as the Southland Live project in Calumet City just across the state line, have touted their locations as not siphoning off customers from existing Illinois casinos, such as in Joliet, and also keeping gamblers in the state who now travel to casinos in northwest Indiana. Southland Live, in paperwork filed with the Illinois Gaming Board, said it expected its casino could also bring Hoosier gamblers into Illinois. It reported that Illinois residents spend more than $700 million annually gambling at northwest Indiana casinos. In an email, Osi Imomoh, Delaware North’s regional general manager, said the company respects “this deliberate process and stand ready to engage when an investment banking firm has been selected.” A spokeswoman for Wind Creek, the Homewood-East Hazel Crest applicants, said that “while disappointed with the delay” the applicant “anxiously awaits the opportunity to present and share more about why they’re the best operator for the south suburbs.” Wherever the casino is ultimately located, gambling revenue would be shared with dozens of other south and southwest suburbs, under the state legislation. That would help bolster communities that have seen a drop in revenue, such as sales taxes, due to the pandemic. But even before the pandemic, several suburbs have seen their commercial tax base shrink due to a number of factors. The Southland Live group, in its filing with the gaming board, pointed out that the River Oaks shopping center has battled store closings and long-term vacancies for years, with tax revenues never recovering. The economic future of the shopping center and the city itself are “bleak without a paradigm-shifting stimulus” that the casino would bring, the group said. While not promoting one applicant over another, the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau has cited a Southland casino as a potential tourism draw for the area as well as generating jobs. “It’s a big disappointment,” Jim Garrett, the bureau’s president and chief executive, said of the delay. “It sets us back a little bit.” “We just have to keep our eyes open and make sure it happens,” he said. .
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