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Developer places opening bet in south suburban casino race

At least six Southland sites have been floated as destinations for a new casino license.

Artist’s rendering of a casino proposed by Wind Creek Hospitality just off Interstate 80 near 175h Street and Halsted, straddling the border of suburban Homewood and East Hazel Crest.
Artist’s rendering of a casino proposed by Wind Creek Hospitality just off Interstate 80 near 175h Street and Halsted, straddling the border of suburban Homewood and East Hazel Crest.
Provided by Wind Creek Hospitality

An Alabama development group has put the first chips down on the table in the first bid to land a casino in Chicago’s south suburbs, while a second group hinted Thursday it could soon go all in with a competing proposal.

It all happens as the clock ticks toward an end-of-month deadline for casino plans to be submitted for approval by the Illinois Gaming Board under the state’s massive new gambling expansion law. Wind Creek Hospitality announced Thursday it placed the opening bet on a site straddling the border of Homewood and East Hazel Crest.

Prime real estate just off Interstate 80, near 175th Street and Halsted, gives the group “the best site” for the state to draw in gamblers from across the region, including Indiana, Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld said.

Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld.
Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld.
From http://www.village.homewood.il.us/gov

“We’ve been working with this group for a long time, and we’re really excited,” he said.

Wind Creek, part of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, runs 10 gambling operations in Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Curacao.

Its plan calls for a 64,000-square-foot casino floor with 1,356 gaming positions; an entertainment center, three restaurants, two bars and a “skyline lounge,” plus a 251-room luxury hotel.

Wind Creek says in addition to construction work, it will eventually create 800 full-time jobs.

“East Hazel Crest and Homewood are two strong and stable communities, with visionary leadership,” Wind Creek chief operating officer Brent Pinkston said in a statement. “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.”

State law sets aside 5% of the casino’s gross revenue for the host communities — with 3% being divided among dozens of south suburbs.

Under a long-held agreement reached over years of Springfield wrangling for a south suburban casino, East Hazel Crest will keep slightly more than half of the remaining 2%, with the remainder going to Homewood, Hofeld said.

That cut of the pie could still net his town about $2 million annually — money that would be used for capital projects and hiring firefighters — if the casino hits its projections of more than $200 million in annual gross revenue, Hofeld said.

The village boards of Homewood and East Hazel Crest will meet Monday and Wednesday, respectively, to discuss — and likely approve — the Wind Creek proposal. State law requires developers to have an agreement with the host town before they apply for Gaming Board approval.

While the five other new casino licenses authorized in the gambling expansion were earmarked for specific municipalities — Chicago, Waukegan, Rockford, Danville and a narrow stretch of downstate Williamson County — the law opened a license to six south Cook County townships, leaving the suburbs to duke it out.

In addition to the East Hazel Crest/Homewood proposal, at least five other suburbs have declared they’re in the casino race since the gambling law passed at the end of June.

Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams
Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams in 2015. File Photo.
Brian Jackson/For The Sun-Times

Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams said Thursday his village was ironing out the details but planned to move forward soon with a developer on a proposal. Williams previously said Lynwood could partner with neighboring Ford Heights on a 58-acre site northeast of the Route 394-U.S. 30 interchange.

Ryan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Ho-Chunk nation, which operates six entertainment and gaming facilities, said the Wisconsin 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,” McLaughlin said. “While a final decision about whether to proceed has not been made, we plan to make that decision very soon.”

Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta. File Photo.
Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta. File Photo.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Crestwood Mayor Lou Presta said they’re still hammering out a deal with a developer on a 46-acre site north of Cal Sag Road and east of Cicero Avenue.

And Matteson will soon announce plans with a developer on another bid, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Chalmers-Currin said.

Additionally, the mayors of Calumet City and Country Club Hills each previously have said their towns will vie for the casino, too. They did not return messages seeking comment Thursday.

Matteson Village President Sheila Chalmers-Currin
Matteson Village President Sheila Chalmers-Currin
Facebook photo

Whoever wins the race will also have to compete with a new combination horse racetrack and casino in nearby Tinley Park that was also included in the legislation.

That venture, headed by Hawthorne Race Course general manager Tim Carey and video gambling entrepreneur Rick Heidner, got the green light from the Illinois Racing Board last week.

The “racino,” like the south suburban casino and all other potential state gambling meccas, needs final approval from the Gaming Board to host slots and table games..

Applications, complete with a $250,000 application fee, must be submitted to that state regulatory agency by the end of the month.