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Waukegan checks in casino poker game — opts to let state board sort out three competing bids

The aldermen voted 6 to 3 to send proposals from Full House Resorts and North Point Casino to the Illinois Gaming Board. They voted 5 to 4 to advance the Rivers Casino Waukegan bid

Aerial view of the Fountain Square site that could soon be home to a casino in Waukegan. 
Aerial view of the the shuttered Fountain Square shopping center at Lakehurst Road and Northpoint Boulevard in Waukegan. It’s the north suburb’s chosen site for a Lake County casino.
City of Waukegan

The Waukegan City Council on Thursday decided against betting the pot on a single choice for the long sought Lake County casino, instead sending the competing applications of three developers to state regulators and rejecting a fourth.

The aldermen voted 6 to 3 to send the proposals from Full House Resorts and North Point Casino to the Illinois Gaming Board for consideration. North Point is led by former Grayslake state Sen. Michael Bond, who recently used his video gambling firm Tap Room Gaming to spend thousands of dollars on Waukegan elections.

Officials also voted 5 to 4 to advance the Rivers Casino Waukegan bid from Chicago casino magnate Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming and the Louisville-based corporate gambling Giant Churchill Downs Inc. They already own the most lucrative gambling den in the state, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino Waukegan.
Rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino Waukegan.
Provided by Churchill Downs Inc./Rush Street Gaming

A report the city had requested evaluating the various proposals rated Las-Vegas-based Full House as the top contender, with North Point and Rivers Casino ranking second and third respectively. The plan put forth by Forest County Potawatomi, the Wisconsin tribe that operates the Potawatami Casino in Milwaukee, ranked last and was the only bid rejected on Thursday.

Waukegan commissioned Chicago-based Johnson Consulting to conduct the 18-page report to help weigh the competing proposals for what the city pitched as “more than just a casino but rather an entertainment destination.” Following Thursday’s vote, Potawatomi attorney Jeff Crawford said “there’s still no explanation how we got ranked fourth.”

Crawford noted that Potawatomi’s proposal included the highest number of new jobs at 2,600 and the largest potential economic impact for the city. However, Potawatomi was downgraded for offering the lowest bid on the land targeted for the casino, the shuttered Fountain Square shopping center. Potawatomi offered $5.6 million. Top-ranked Full House offered the most, $30 million.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed “American Place” casino in Waukegan.
Artist’s rendering of the proposed “American Place” casino in Waukegan.
Provided by Full House Resorts

“Obviously we’re very disappointed, and actually dazed and confused,” said Crawford, adding that he was bewildered by the next steps laid out Thursday by Charles Johnson, the president and CEO of the firm that authored the report.

Crawford said Johnson told aldermen that the recommendations would be sent to the gaming board, which would review and rank the applications before referring them back to the city to negotiate prospective agreements.

“I’m pretty sure that that is not the way the process works,” Crawford said.

But Robert Long, an attorney for Waukegan, said Johnson’s explanation is “a very likely result.”

“The statute is a bit unclear,” Long said. “One possible alternative is that the Gaming Board could simply award a conditional license to a single player and direct that a final contract be negotiated with the city.”

Rendering of the first phase of development for the proposed North Point Casino.
Rendering of the first phase of development for the proposed North Point Casino.
Provided

The gaming board will nevertheless have final say on issuing the license, which will cost more than $15 million.

Waukegan is among six locations in line for new casino licenses under Illinois’ colossal gambling expansion signed into law earlier this summer by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Long claimed the winning bids “offered a vision of a full-fledged entertainment district as well as world-class casino to anchor it.”