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Haven Gaming Wants to Pull and Revise Danville, Ill., Casino Application as NY Firm May Become Involved

The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) meets Thursday and will be asked to allow Haven Gaming to pull its application for the proposed casino in Danville.

The del Lago Resort and Casino in upstate New York was built by Wilmorite Management Group, a New York firm that may now be connected with a bid to build a casino in Danville, Ill. (Image: Messenger Post Media)

A statement from the company on Tuesday indicates that it has withdrawn the application, although according to the board’s agenda, the IGB may still need to approve the request. In addition, it appears Haven may now be connected to an upstate New York development company.

The reason for this action is simply to prepare and submit a new application that is more suitable for the project and more accurately meets the expectations of the gaming board,” the company’s statement read.

The company plans to submit a new application in August, according to the statement. 

Haven’s statement, provided to Casino.org by Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Jr., features a Rochester, NY dateline. It also lists Janice Sherman as the media contact, with a phone number starting with the Rochester area code.

There is also a Janice Sherman who serves as the corporate director of marketing and public relations for Wilmorite Management Group in Rochester.

Sherman did not respond to a message sent Wednesday evening.

The IGB meeting starts at 10 a.m. CT.

Wilmorite’s Gaming History

Wilmorite is a family operated development and construction firm with some ties to the gaming industry.

It served as the developer for Harrah’s Northern California, a $168 million tribal casino about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento, and the First Council Casino in Newkirk, Okla., which is just south of the Kansas state line.

However, the casino it’s mostly associated with is the del Lago Casino and Resort in Tyre, NY, about 40 miles east of Rochester. The New York Gaming Commission awarded Wilmorite the license and the company built a $455 million resort, which opened in February 2017.

However, del Lago, like the three other commercial casino resorts upstate, has struggled to produce the desired revenues, and last year, Wilmorite sold its share in the casino to Peninsula Pacific. It currently remains closed because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Danville Application Background

Last October, Danville officials selected Haven to develop the casino as the result of an expanded gaming bill passed by the Illinois legislature a year prior. However, the application process has not gone smoothly for the company.

In January, Ed Winkofsky, a lawyer representing the company, asked the IGB if it could amend its application. The board denied the request. At the time, the attorney for Haven said some participants in the project changed at the last minute, right before the Oct. 28 deadline to submit an application for a license.

Haven Gaming previously went by Ciela Gaming, a Nevada-based company, according to the Danville Commercial-News. A records check with the Nevada Secretary of State shows that Kathryn Solomon and Renee Fanjon are officers of Ciela, which still shows an active registration.

Haven is registered in Illinois with only Solomon, who also has ties to a company that considered seeking a casino license in Chicago’s south suburbs.

Fanjon, meanwhile, sued the IGB five years ago, claiming the regulatory body denied her a license for video gaming machines because her husband successfully sued the board over machines he had placed in a gym, according to the Cook County Record.

An online check Wednesday could not determine the result of the lawsuit.

Her husband, Kevin Sypolt, also filed a federal lawsuit against the board last September, claiming it “sought to quietly kill” an application he submitted for a video gaming license. The lawsuit, which is still active, states the IGB did not act on his establishment’s application for nearly a year, forcing him to withdraw the bid. The IGB’s tactics cost Sypolt and his business “potentially more than $5 million.”

Scott Sypolt is an attorney who has been quoted in some media outlets and has made some public presentations representing Haven. It’s unclear the relationship, if any, between the two Sypolts.

Ex-Illinois state Rep. Lou Lang (D), who served 32 years in the state legislature, was also once tied to the project. Lang, who served in House leadership, helped craft the expanded gaming bill that led to the central Illinois community on the Indiana state line getting an opportunity for a casino.

However, when the IGB met in January, Haven’s lawyer mentioned only Solomon and Bill Bembenek as individuals with an interest in the company. Bembenek previously served as CEO of the Pala Casino Spa and Resort in California.

A message to Winkofsky Wednesday was not returned.

Mayor Backs Haven

Earlier this summer, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a bill into law that requires the IGB to reopen the process for the five communities selected for casino licenses if the board has not approved an operator for the license. A Danville area legislator said it would give the city “a second shot” at getting a casino.

Mayor Williams in a statement to Casino.org, said Haven told city officials of the plan to pull the application, and he still gives the company his support.

I agree with the strategy and look forward to having the best possible application before the Illinois Gaming Board,” Williams told Casino.org. “In my experience with Haven Gaming management team, I have seen a consistent level of professionalism and industry knowledge.  I believe that they have the community’s best interest in mind.

The revised plan is scheduled to be approved by the Danville City Council next month.

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