Another Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) meeting has come and gone, and pending casino applicants are not tangibly closer to securing approval.
There are currently six new casino licenses up for grabs. They are in the following regions: Rockford, Waukegan, Danville, Williamson County, the south suburbs and Chicago.
Some groups filed their applications in October 2019. It’s April 2021, and only one group has been found “preliminarily suitable,” which is not considered a final approval.
That was the Hard Rock Casino Rockford.
The process has moved at an extremely slow pace, and the end of April is supposedly another deadline. But with no significant casino news on the agenda at the April 21 meeting, save for one amended application, it appears unlikely that the IGB will meet this deadline.
Here’s how we got to this point.
October 2020 was first IGB casino ‘deadline’
The law states that the IGB has a year to rule on an application from the time they receive one. However, the board can hold a special public meeting or give a written explanation for a delayed decision to applicants.
As several groups applied in October 2019, October 2020 was the one-year deadline.
On Oct. 27, IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter said the board provided a written explanation for the delay to applicants.
At the board meeting the next day, Fruchter said pending applicants should “reasonably expect” to have a decision within six months.
In that span, Hard Rock Casino Rockford was deemed “preliminarily suitable.”
We’ve heard nothing regarding other pending applicants, except for a few application amendments. Currently, there are pending applications for the Waukegan, Williamson County, Danville and south suburban licenses.
The IGB did not receive the Danville application until November 2020 but received the others much further back.
Fruchter addressed the Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort application amendment at the meeting, but did not offer a specific timeline regarding any of the applicants.
Lawmakers frustrated over Illinois casino process
It is a mystery how much of the delay can be attributed to the IGB and how much can be attributed to the applicants. With that said, certain Illinois lawmakers haven’t been shy about criticizing the IGB.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, who represents Illinois’ 35th District, has been among the most critical. With news that a Beloit, Wisconsin, casino approved near Rockford, Syverson said the following in March:
“I’m hoping this will be a wake-up call for the state. The competition is going to be one that, historically, would be a real problem for us.
“If Wisconsin beats us to the punch and gets (the casino) opened, people are going to get used to going to a casino like that, and then it makes it tougher (to) bring them back home.”
Perhaps ironically, the Rockford casino is further along than any other region. Still, the IGB has yet to grant final approval.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Anthony DeLuca and Kristi DeLaurentiis, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, wrote a letter to the IGB in August criticizing the delays.
Here’s an excerpt:
“We respectfully remind you that this south suburban license is long overdue and a decision delayed is a decision denied. COVID-19 cannot be allowed to serve as a reason for inaction. The deadline as set forth in the statute is approaching and the future of nearly a million residents rests in your hands.”
That was now two deadlines ago, and we still don’t have a good idea of where the south suburban casino project stands.
Chicago casino update: Windy City now taking applicants
Chicago is moving the slowest of any new casino region, though that has nothing to do with the IGB at this point. With that said, add Mayor Lori Lightfoot to the list of public officials critical of the board’s pace.
Lightfoot said, via the Chicago Sun-Times:
“Once we present a proposal to them (IGB), we’ve got to move forward expeditiously. And again, I don’t want to prejudge it, but I’m looking at the time, like the time it takes for the gaming board to do its work — it’s got to speed up.”
The city of Chicago put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) today; these proposals from casino operators are due Aug. 23. Lightfoot has invited all of the biggest names to apply, including Las Vegas gaming companies.
Chicago plans to select a winning bid by the end of 2021. Then, the winner can submit its materials to the IGB.
Though as Lightfoot noted, the approval process can take a long time. A Chicago casino is fun to think about, but at this point, it’s a long way from reality.