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Action on Illinois' inactive casino license

25 November 2008

No one can ever say the state of Illinois can be rushed on casino matters.

Since the Silver Eagle in East Dubuque closed its doors in 1997, leaving one of the state's 10 casino licenses inactive, cruising requirements have been dropped in the riverboat states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri and an entire land-based casino industry with both Native American and commercial casinos has grown in Michigan.

Video slots, just starting to appear in 1997, have become the hottest games around. Slot machines, where players still dropped coins or tokens in 1997, have gone to ticket-in, ticket-out payoffs. Three Card Poker has carved out a niche as a standard table game.

And Grand Victoria, the state's revenue leader in the northwest Chicago suburb of Elgin, has paid more than $1.7 billion in state and local gaming taxes.

Finally, after years of legal wrangling with investors of the Emerald Casino — the successor group to Silver Eagle that was to move the license to Rosemont until an investigation into mob ties derailed all plays — Illinois seems ready to activate the license and open the revenue stream once more.

The license is certain to land in the Chicago area, where there is no shortage of applicants. Rosemont remains interested, as are groups in Waukegan, Harvey, Country Club Hills, Calumet City, Des Plaines — a mix of north and south suburbs.

Then there is south suburban Stickney, where Tim Carey is eager to bring the license to the family-owned Hawthorne Race Course. The proposed $500 million Champions Casino and Resort would be unique among American "racinos" — racetrack-casino combinations that up till now have used only slot machines in the casino facilities.

Champions would include table games, with the casino operation under the watchful eye of former Empress and Horseshoe Hammond president Joe Canfora, Canfora, now CEO of Merit Management, is partnering with Hawthorne in the project.

"That's the uniqueness of this project, in that we'd be the first in the country to actually have a full-blown casino at a racetrack," said Hawthorne president Tim Carey. "And naturally we think that we're extremely well placed to do that. And I think that could be trend-setting as far as racing goes across the country."

Part of the revenue, Carey explained, would be used to improve purses at the track and attract a higher grade of horses. And with the population density in the Stickney area, the revenue would be considerable, perhaps even rivaling Grand Victoria, which produces more than $400 million in gaming revenue each year.

"We recognize that we can't have racing without quality horses," Carey said, who explained that part of the project would be rebuilding the track's grandstand and clubhouse into a state-of-the-art facility in anticipation of the casino bringing more patrons to the track. "One of the reasons the state of Illinois has certainly slipped from its national standing because we don't have the purse structures that we once had. And so the state of Illinois has been behind in terms of competing with other states."

Regardless of whether Hawthorne gets the license, Illinois racetracks are to share 15 percent of revenue from any new casino.

"That's why I'm saying, No. 1, there'd be a bump for racing because now you have more people physically at the racetrack, making us different from other applicants, and secondly, we can handle more than other applicants can because our population density is so strong. Because of that density, we think we have a great facility that can generate more revenue than any other applicant can."

The Illinois Gaming Board is expected to narrow applicants to three within the next few weeks, with full presentations by applicants to follow. But, of course, in Illinois things move slowly.

NEW BLOG: If you're interested in the business of gambling, check out WeSeed.com, where I've been asked to contribute a weekly blog. WeSeed is devoted to educating laymen about the stock market, and you'll find plenty of special interests beyond casinos.

The direct link to the casinos page is http://www.weseed.com/passions/view/gamblers-stock-market?passion.

GUIDE IS HERE: Steve Bourie's 2009 American Casino Guide, filled with articles on gambling as well as locations, phone numbers, available games, hotel and dining information for every casino in the United States, is hot off the press.

Bourie's guide is a terrific resource for players who travel, and that includes the 400-plus coupons in the back of the book. The biggest share is from Nevada casinos, of course, but you'll find a few gems from the Midwest such as the three buy one, get one dining coupons from Grand Victoria in Elgin, buffet, cash for points and coffee coupons from Majestic Star in Gary, and a bonus play for points coupon from Greektown in Detroit.

The 496-page guide is $18.95, and available at www.americancasinoguide.com.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski