Six Card Stud: Country Club Hills saddles up for casino race after state reins in Tinley Park ‘racino’ plan

Country Club Hills’ decision to join five other casino rivals comes a week after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration sank plans for a south suburban racetrack/casino led by Rick Heidner.

SHARE Six Card Stud: Country Club Hills saddles up for casino race after state reins in Tinley Park ‘racino’ plan
Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford wants to bring a casino to this undeveloped 200-acre plot at 167th Street and Cicero.

Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford wants to bring a casino to this undeveloped 200-acre plot at 167th Street and Cicero.

Sun-Times files

The stunning failure of a proposed combination racetrack/casino last week left one south suburb on the outside looking in at Illinois’ massive gambling expansion — and it prompted another to try to get in on the action.

Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford announced Tuesday his city has approved a casino development proposal, a bid he said they weren’t planning until the separate Tinley Park “racino” plan fell through last week.

That prompted Country Club Hills to join five other bidders vying to win the south suburban jackpot.

“When the racino got pulled off the table, we decided to go for the casino,” Ford said. “We weren’t going to go for it if the racino was going to happen in Tinley Park, with us being next door.”

Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford

Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford

Sun-Times files

The racino had appeared on the fast track with Illinois Racing Board approval, but it went bust last week when Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration announced it wouldn’t sell the land for the project at 183rd Street and Harlem to the development group that included video gambling magnate Rick Heidner.

That decision came in the wake of revelations that Heidner’s name surfaced in federal search warrants for the offices of state Sen. Martin Sandoval and McCook Mayor Jeffrey Tobolski as part of a broadening corruption probe.

It left “blindsided” Tinley Park officials searching for another development plan, and it set Country Club Hills scrambling to make its latest bid for a casino on a 200-acre site off Interstate 57, along Cicero Avenue between 167th and 175th streets.

The city has pushed for a casino a few times over the last two decades, most recently losing out on the license that ended up going to Rivers Casino in Des Plaines in 2008.

“We’ve been down this road before,” Ford said. “Our land is totally undeveloped. It’s there, and we’re ready to go.”

The Country Club Hills site is less than five miles from the land Tinley Park had been eying for its now thwarted racino.

The Country Club Hills bid is the sixth announced in the competition for a new casino license authorized for the south suburbs under Pritzker’s gambling expansion that became law over the summer.

Leading Country Club Hills’ casino development is the New York-based Spreads Group, which on its website describes itself as “a collection of highly experienced sports betting and gaming customer acquisition specialists.”

Ford referred questions about the proposal to Spreads Group partner Robert Davidman, who said his firm was still laying out specifics during what he described as “a crazy 24 hours.”

Last week, Calumet City and Crestwood announced they’d partnered with developers on casino bids, following Matteson, Lynwood and a joint proposal from Homewood and East Hazel Crest.

Developers have until the end of the month to submit proposals to the Illinois Gaming Board, which has the final say on who gets the south suburban casino.

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