Wind Creek, South Suburban Make Final Pitches for Cook County License

Equal parts direct and brief, Wind Creek and South Suburban Development made their final public presentations to the Illinois Gaming Board Thursday in pursuing the state’s casino license for suburban Cook County in the area south of Chicago and near the Indiana state line.

Some new information was presented as each group used approximately 15 minutes to reinforce points made from their full presentations made to the IGB earlier this month. Wind Creek and South Suburban Development were unanimously voted forward as the two finalists, with the state agency voting down applications by both Southland Live! and Southland Ho-Chunk.

After Thursday’s pair of followup pitches, IGB Chairman Charles Schmadeke quipped, “I’m glad we have a difficult decision to make.”

The board then voted to move to close session and reconvene at a specially scheduled meeting Nov. 18. It is uncertain if a winning bid for either suburban Cook County or Waukegan will be announced at that time, but Administrator Marcus Fruchter said earlier this month the board is on track to select a winner for both locations by no later than January.

The suburban Cook County casino license is one of six new ones to be awarded by the IGB after Gov. JB Pritzker signed the gaming expansion bill in June 2019 that also legalized sports wagering in Illinois. Whichever group the IGB selects will face stern casino competition both in Illinois and from neighboring Indiana — downtown Chicago also was awarded a license in the expansion bill, while Northwest Indiana has a vibrant gaming scene. It has three casinos following the May opening of Hard Rock Northern Indiana in Gary to join Horseshoe Hammond and Ameristar in East Chicago.

Groups focus on economics differently

As it did during its full presentation, Wind Creek touted itself as the best option for suburban Cook County in terms of potential revenue for both the state and local municipalities. It again cited figures provided by Global Market Advisors and Innovation Group — this time backed further from Spectrum Gaming Group — that it could generate $155 million in revenue by 2025. It provided a second chart that showed the potential to generate $24 million in municipal taxes the first five years of operation, 20% more than the proposal from South Suburban Development.

“With strong support from diverse mayors and community leaders through the south suburbs and verifiable evidence that Wind Creek will produce over $140 million more tax revenue than the Matteson site over 20 years for the state of Illinois and the south suburban townships, we are hopeful and confident that the Illinois Gaming Board will select our proposal for a casino/hotel entertainment complex in East Hazel Crest and Homewood,” said Brent Pinkston, EVP chief operating officer, Wind Creek Hospitality, in a statement.

Apostle Carl White, who runs Victory Christian International Ministries in Markham near the proposed casino site that straddles Homewood and East Hazel Crest, lauded Wind Creek’s proposal as an “opportunity in the Southland to really go at the deserts that we have, the economic deserts. Wind Creek has targeted the communities with 20 percent-plus poverty levels for minority jobs, vendors, and contractors. … There will be job fairs that go out into the community and take that to the disadvantaged community.”

Presenting second on behalf of the South Suburban Development bid, Village of Matteson President Shiela Chalmers-Currin highlighted use of the infrastructure already in place. The Market Square Crossing proposal includes pre-existing traffic lights and public transportation routes utilized by PACE and Metra. She also pointed out the village has a successful track record in managing large projects, with Amazon recently opening a 3.8 million-square-foot fulfillment center there.

Matteson’s central location was again highlighted as a selling point to avoid potential gaming cannibalization, with the village 30 miles from downtown Chicago, Joliet, and Indiana. Rob Miller, president of Miller Companies that is part of the bid along with Oklahoma-based Choctaw Nation, stressed the proposal’s economic feasibility as a counterweight to higher revenue estimates, given what is at stake in terms of development for suburban Cook County.

“[The casino] must be large enough to attract a regional audience but not so large that it fails,” he said. “Janie (Choctaw Nation Senior Executive Janie Dillard) mentioned how overbuilt casinos in competitive markets failed in upstate New York. We understand those lessons and will not make the same mistake in Matteson.

“Failure would not just hurt Illinois tax revenue, it will jeopardize local programs that depend on the casino. And worse, it would devastate the local workforce. Instead, we’re proposing a financially prudent facility that is scaled for success.”

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