Race track operators make bid for casino license

CHICAGO The state's 10th casino license was slated to go to Rosemont 10 years ago, but it went to court instead. And it stayed there for a long time.

By some estimates, having the 10th casino license in neutral for the past decade cost the state $1 billion in lost revenue. But the game is on again, from Waukegan to Harvey, to horsemen at Hawthorne.

"In order to compete in racing, we need gaming, and this venue will provide that and more," said Tim Carey, Hawthorne Race Track GM.

The operators of Hawthorne Race Track in Stickney want to create a "racino," a marriage of horse racing and casino gambling. Champions Casino and resort, they would call it, with theaters, bowling, a water park, hotels and a big name who would be investing as a restaurateur.

"It makes sense. That's why this thing is so exciting to me," said Mike Ditka. "It makes sense and I hope it makes sense to the people who make the decisions."

The people who will make the decision, members of the gaming board, Wednesday afternoon revealed the seven communities and their business partners who want the state's 10th casino license.

In addition to the Hawthorne group in Stickney, the other bids are from Calumet City, Country Club Hills, Des Plaines, Harvey, Rosemont and Waukegan.

"We're a very deprived area. Waukegan probably has somewhere around 10 to 15 percent unemployment," said Mayor Richard Hyde, Waukegan.

"The net effect of Waukegan will generate more gaming revenue for the state than any of the other locations," said Ed Duffy, Waukegan Gaming.

Some of the bidders argue that they're most deserving because of economic need. Others say their site will mean the most money for the state.

Each of the applicants had to promise an opening bid. Rosemont's, at $435 million, is $200 million more than the second highest, from Waukegan. But those bids are like opening hands in poker, some bid high, Others low. All of them will be sweetened.

The seven bids will be narrowed to three, and then the real bidding starts. The three finalists will be chosen perhaps sometime next month.

"We have received 65 boxes of materials. It's an enormous task. We had help from Credit Suisse in order to do that. We'll do it promptly and as soon as practical," said Mike Fries, gaming board general counsel.

Which bidder ultimately will bring in the most money? Which one brings it in the fastest? Which one has the best revenue sharing plan? Minority ownership? Which one cannibalizes other existing casinos the least? There are lots of factors the gaming board will look at. The intent is to pick the winner sometime before the first of the year.

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