Five south suburban lawmakers have written a letter asking Gov. JB Pritzker to get involved with the Illinois Gaming Board’s (IGB) casino license process.
The process has moved at a snail’s pace thus far. Pritzker signed gambling expansion into law in 2019, green-lighting six new potential casino licenses. Fast-forward to now, and the IGB hasn’t issued a single license.
There has been especially little progress on the south suburban license. Rockford and Williamson County projects are near full approval, but the south suburbs appear nowhere close to that point.
The five lawmakers wrote in the letter, via the Chicago Tribune:
“Your constituents in south suburban Chicago have suffered many hardships in the last two years, but none may be worse than the failure of their own government to act on legislatively sanctioned proposals to create new jobs, higher incomes and more robust local economies.
“Please spur IGB into action. Every day that we delay the casino project in the Southland — where annual household incomes range as low as $27,000 — means another day that families in our area are denied chances to win better jobs and better incomes.”
Multiple south suburban developers applied in 2019. The IGB was supposed to give a ruling within a year, or provide written explanation for delaying the process.
The one-year deadline passed in the fall of 2020, and the two-year date is approaching.
IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter responded to the letter in a statement, saying:
“The IGB fully appreciates the significance of the new casino license to the communities of the south suburbs. The casino application process is a rigorous and significant undertaking.”
Fruchter has previously attributed delays to COVID-19 and the applicants themselves.
The next IGB meeting, which is usually where casino news happens, is on Sept. 9.
There is a logjam of south suburban applicants
Part of the reason for the delay in comparison to regions such as Rockford and Williamson County is that there are multiple applicants for the south suburban license.
There are four interested in developers, whereas some regions only had one bidder. So, because the IGB has to evaluate each applicant, it makes sense that the south suburban license would take longer. Waukegan is in a similar boat.
State Rep. Anthony DeLuca was one of the lawmakers to sign the letter. He said of Pritzker’s possible involvement:
“I don’t think any legislator, any politician or any governor should interfere with this process that the gaming board is going through, but they can certainly put it on their radar. We can certainly make it known that this is priority for the Southland, and that does not appear to be happening.”
State Rep. Bob Rita also signed the letter. Rita co-sponsored the House online casino bill earlier this year that failed to pass.
The latest on other Illinois casino licenses
As previously mentioned, Hard Rock Casino Rockford and Walker’s Bluff Casino in Williamson County are close to receiving full approval.
The IGB found each “preliminarily suitable” earlier this year. That’s the last stage before final approval.
The Hard Rock plans to open a temporary casino in the fall as it builds the permanent facility. Walker’s Bluff is a few months behind Hard Rock in the process.
Beyond those two regions, we don’t know much. But we do know that the city of Chicago is struggling to drum up interest for its license.
Citing high tax rates, among other negative factors, most of the biggest gaming companies in the US are opting not to bid on the Chicago casino license. We know Rush Street Gaming is interested, but for now, that’s where the list ends.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot extended the bidding deadline from August until October. And even though Chicago is struggling to attract gaming operators, Lightfoot has criticized the IGB in advance for its slow process.
It will be years before some of these casinos are built. In the meantime, Illinois keeps on Illinois-ing.