ABC7 Exclusive: Inside the Empress Casino

June 11, 2009 5:32:14 PM PDT
ABC7 gets an exclusive look at the Empress Casino in Joliet 2 months after a fire.It's been just more than two months since the land-based section burned to the ground. Construction crews are working furiously, preparing to re-open the casino area later this month.

It has gone from an inferno on March 20 to being rebuilt today. The most important parts were saved by a fire wall marked by a red line. It's allowing Empress Casino to bounce back from calamity.

Frank Quigley holds court with some of his staff. All 870 employees of the Empress Casino were paid by Penn National Gaming in the three months since the fire. They offered Joliet community service this spring as they waited for a renovation worth at least $55 million to be completed.It's a happy time but as the fire grew that day, Quigley's increasingly pessimistic view of when re-opening would be possible -- that day, the next day -- shifted by the hour.

"That didn't happen, maybe next week, that didn't happen and then it got to a point where we basically said burn baby burn. Let's save our casino but let the pavilion go and we can get a fresh start," said Frank Quigley, GM, Empress Casino.

That fresh start for veterans of the gaming business is something they'd heard before. But now they're excited.

"I was speechless. I was like, who ever does something like that?" said Kenny Borio, bartender, when asked how he felt when he found out he would be paid.

The fire started at an ancillary food service area that was under construction. Now, a whole new floor of dining options is being built around a chic art deco aesthetic. Gaming provides nearly $35 million in revenue to Joliet annually. The fire has cost the city at least $4 million. And for casino workers, whose careers were on hold the renovation is a promise kept.

"They had heard it for nine years from various owners before us, I promise you. But I don't expect you to believe me. I said, just wait six to nine months, a year and see if the guy told you the truth. I don't have to do that anymore. They can look down now and say this guy was telling me the truth and that is pretty cool," said Quigley.

Clearly for a city striving since the late 1980's to be the gaming capital of the Midwest, it's a calamity that had to be handled. There's still a lot of work to do but they are opening two weeks from Thursday, June 25.


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