South Chicago Casino Bid Emerges Out Of Nowhere

Posted on November 1, 2019 - Last Updated on November 12, 2019

Just days after a “racino” bid in Tinley Park fell through, another bid emerged in the nearby Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills.

The situation in the southwestern suburbs shifted drastically when one of the key would-be developers for the Tinley Park project was flagged in a political corruption probe. The late scratch opened the way for Country Club Hills to take a swing at profiting from the authorized gambling expansion in Illinois.

Why the Country Club Hills bid materialized quickly

On Oct. 15, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker threw a wrench in Tinley Park’s machine. His administration announced it would not be selling the state-owned parcel of land crucial for the city’s bid because of the involvement of Gold Rush Gaming owner Rick Heidner in development plans.

Heidner’s name turned up in federal warrants related to a political corruption probe involving the offices of state Sen. Martin Sandoval and McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski. Heidner’s company Gold Rush was also implicated in the warrants.

While it’s possible Tinley Park may submit a new proposal to buy the land at 183rd and Harlem excluding Heidner from the process, for now, it’s dead in the water. The retraction of the sale effectively killed Tinley Park’s bid.

Country Club Hills wasted no time before swooping in. The failure of the Tinley Park venture appears to be the only thing holding that suburb back.

Competition for Illinois gaming license

Country Club Hills Mayor James Ford announced his city’s bid on Tuesday, Oct. 22. The projected site for the new gambling establishment is a 200-acre parcel of currently undeveloped land at the intersection of 167th and 175th streets – less than five miles from the projected Tinley Park racino location.

While there’s no timetable for when the state may decide upon the bids, there is competition. The Country Club Hills bid is one of six right now competing for a single authorized casino license in the south Chicago suburbs.

The biggest difference between the Country Club Hills bid and the Tinley Park bid is the proposed casino type. While Tinley Park proposed a “racino” (casino games and horse racing at one facility), the Country Club Hills proposal is for a casino only.

The five other suburbs in the running are:

  • Calumet City
  • Crestwood
  • Homewood
  • Lynwood
  • Matteson

While a Chicago suburb casino is sure to come with challenges, it seems these cities are undeterred. The potential benefit for the cities is obvious.

Why hosting a casino in Chicago’s south suburbs is attractive

Illinois state law now devotes 5% of adjusted revenues for cities that host casinos. While casino operators have decried the Illinois casino tax structure as exorbitant, it would also mean new revenue for one of these suburbs.

For a developer to invest at the current rates, there will have to be some financial incentive. It’s unclear right now what Country Club Hills is willing to offer casino operators.

Other bids have already partnered with operators like Delaware North and Wind Creek Hospitality. In order for the Country Club Hills bid to be competitive, it will likely need a similar partner.

While a 2,000-gaming position casino is likely to crop up south of Chicago in the near future, it remains uncertain where it will land.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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