District Judge Throws Out Tribe’s Lawsuit Against City Of Waukegan

Written By Nikhil Kalro on April 12, 2024
Judge's gavel and scales signify judge throwing out Potawatami case over casino expansion

A lawsuit filed by Waukegan Potawatomi Casino, LLC claiming discrimination by the city of Waukegan has been dismissed.

The company, operated by the Potawatomi Indian Tribe, was one of four casino operators that submitted bids to run a casino in the city. When the city refused to certify its submission to the Illinois Gaming Board, it sued, claiming the city violated its Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights.

District Judge John F. Kness threw out the case earlier this month in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, ruling the tribe had no right to claim discrimination under the law.

Tribe sued after its bid was rejected by city of Waukegan

Besides legalizing sports betting in Illinois, the 2019 Sports Wagering Act allowed for six more casinos to be built in the state. The city of Waukegan was one of the sites chosen to house a casino.

Four operators – Potawatomi, Full House Resorts, North Point and Rivers – applied to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) for a license to manage the casino. The city, which must certify applicants prior to IGB consideration, approved three of the submissions, rejecting the bid from the Potawatomi Tribe.

Warner Gaming, North Point’s casino operator, manages six casinos in four states. Full House Resorts operates five casinos in four states. Rivers, owned by Rush Street Gaming and Churchill Downs, manages four casinos in three states. The Potawatomi Tribe operates two tribal casinos in Wisconsin.

The tribe sued the city, alleging discrimination against its right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Judge says city had right to reject tribe’s bid

The case was moved to federal court in Chicago. Kness dismissed the lawsuit, saying the Potawatomi Tribe has no right to claim discrimination under the 14th Amendment because it is a sovereign entity.

According to the ruling:

“Even if plaintiff’s interests could be characterized as non-sovereign in nature, plaintiff nevertheless does not fall within the ‘zone of interests.’ In any event, plaintiff has failed to establish an equal protection violation claim as a matter of law. No reasonable jury could find that plaintiff was similarly situated to the other casino license applicants, and sufficient rational bases exist for the city’s decision not to certify plaintiff.

“Accordingly, defendant’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and the court declines to retain jurisdiction over plaintiff’s remaining state-law claims. Plaintiff fails to meet the ‘very significant burden’ of a class-of-one claim. Nor does plaintiff rebut any of the proffered rational bases. Accordingly, summary judgment as to Count 1 is granted in favor of defendant.”

According to Kness, “the city could have reasonably found that plaintiff’s proposal did not match the realities of the economic market in Waukegan. For a city with lower-than-average median household income levels, and one in which a casino would, according to plaintiff’s own study, yield most of its clientele from within a 35-mile radius, plaintiff’s proposed casino could have been too large.”

Tribe says ruling sets a bad precedent

Potawatomi Tribe spokesperson George Ermert said the ruling sets a precedence that could disallow all tribes from pursuing discrimination claims.

“The court’s ruling could significantly limit the ability of all 574 recognized tribes throughout the US to pursue discrimination claims in federal court. The federal court did not rule on the Potawatomi’s claim that the Waukegan’s casino selection process did not comply with Illinois law, and the tribe will continue to vigorously pursue its claim in court.”

In August last year, the Forest County Potawatomi Community claimed that the selection process was rigged. The Illinois First District Appellate Court agreed with the Potawatomi. The ruling reversed an initial decision from the Cook County Circuit Court. That case is still waiting to be heard in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Full House, which ultimately received approval to operate the casino in Waukegan, has had to halt construction on its permanent venue. It currently operates a temporary casino in the city, called The Temporary, which was opened in February 2023. Last November, the Illinois General Assembly passed an amendment to give the IGB the right to “extend the period during which specified licensees may conduct gaming at a temporary facility by up to 30 months.”

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Nikhil Kalro

Nikhil Kalro is a sports betting writer at PlayIllinois. With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specializations include soccer, football, basketball, tennis and esports betting.

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