Gaming Business

Illinois Town Finds New Partner as Wilmorite Selected to Build, Operate Danville Casino

The City Council in Danville, Ill., signed off on a new plan Tuesday to bring a casino to the central Illinois town near the Indiana state line.

Illinois aldermen voted to allow Wilmorite to proceed with an application to the Illinois Gaming Board, but Mayor Rickey Williams, Jr. will review the document first before it goes to the state. (Image: Wilmorite)

New York-based development firm Wilmorite Management Group will put together a license application to the Illinois Gaming Board. That’s not the only change to the plans, either, as a new location has been selected and a smaller casino is being initially proposed.

Wilmorite takes over for Haven Gaming, which withdrew its application before the IGB last month after the state board criticized the document for being woefully inadequate earlier in the year. Without the board-approved withdrawal, board members said they would have declined the application.

After the July 30 IGB meeting, Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. said Wilmorite was serving as the primary partner within Haven. However, Wilmorite officials presented Tuesday on behalf of Danville Development LLC, an Illinois company registered to the Wilmot family that owns and operates Wilmorite.

Outside of former state Rep. Lou Lang (D), who has advised both Haven and Wilmorite, no one with a tie to Haven spoke at or was mentioned to be part of the Danville Development team at Tuesday’s meeting.

Scaling Down

Last year, Haven proposed building a casino with 1,250 slot machines and 40 table games. On Tuesday, Wilmorite proposed 500 slots with 10 tables, along with a steakhouse and food court across 42,000 square feet. That’s with a $100 million initial investment, a fraction of what Haven proposed last year.

However, Lang told the elected leaders that Wilmorite brings more stability than Haven ever could. The first project went through at least one name change and saw several people move in and out of management positions within the team. That turnover apparently was a reason for the less-than-robust application.

We don’t need other companies to come in and manage it, and we don’t need other companies to come in and run it,” said Lang, who previously advised Haven. “You will know who’s accountable. You will know who to go to, and when the gaming board sees this application, they will approve it.”

If there may be one issue with Wilmorite moving forward, it’s the company’s gaming experience, particularly as an operator.

Wilmorite showcased the casinos it built as a developer, including Harrah’s Northern California and a tribal casino in Oklahoma. The Wilmot family also touted the company’s work on the del Lago Resort and Casino in western New York. They also developed that casino and served as a 50 percent partner with Peninsula Pacific.

Wilmot did not, though, tell the council that Wilmorite sold its stake in the casino last year, less than three years after the $440 million project opened. Like the other commercial casinos in upstate New York, del Lago struggled early to meet its revenue projections.

Still, council members felt confident moving ahead, with Wilmorite as their new partner.

“Our whole committee, the steering committee, we’ve been going around for about 15 months now interviewing, meeting with people, ups and downs, promises that weren’t fulfilled, having the wool pulled over our eyes on a couple occasions,” Alderman and Council Chairman Mike Puhr said.

“But I feel very strongly about the Wilmot family, Wilmorite, and what they propose,” Puhr concluded.

Calls Denied

But not everyone who spoke at Tuesday’s Council meeting voiced support for the plan. Joseph Uram of Cadence Capital Corp. wanted to know why Danville wouldn’t go the route of Waukegan and allow multiple companies to apply for the city’s casino license.

Danville and Waukegan were among the communities named in the 2019 expanded gaming bill that opened the door for casinos there, as well as in Rockford, Chicago’s southern suburbs, Williamson County in southern Illinois, and downtown Chicago.

Uram, a former Argosy Gaming executive, led a team that had been proposing to build a riverboat casino in the city. On Tuesday, he noted that the city ruled out that site because of sewer capacity issues.

The interest of the state of Illinois should align with the interest of the city of Danville, as both entities receive income from the casino,” Uram said. “Why, therefore, wouldn’t you allow the IGB to choose from among multiple applicants?”

Williams refuted those comments, saying the city received two proposals for the casino license. Wilmorite offered millions to the city, while the other unnamed aspiring applicant only offered to sponsor some community events.

Under Wilmorite’s proposal, the company would give $3 million to the city upon receiving the license from the IGB. That would be split evenly among the city’s riverfront development project, the Boys and Girls Club, and improvement projects within the city.

The deal also calls for the city to receive $300,000 annually in non-gaming-related funding, and 8 percent of the casino’s earnings before taxes and depreciation. Wilmorite expects the pre-EBIDTA annual contributions to start off at about $2.4 million.

I don’t understand why we would give up control over the greatest thing that’s going to happen economically to us in decades,” the mayor told the Council. “I think that we can assess for ourselves what is best for our community.”

Williams did not respond to Casino.org’s email on Wednesday for additional comment.

Rebuilding Existing Site Means More Jobs

Haven proposed building the casino on a greenfield site off Interstate 74 that butts up to the Indiana state line. Wilmorite plans to build in the same area, but on the other side of the highway, where there’s already development.

In addition to the $100 million investment, Wilmorite will also spend $600,000 to update sewers in that area.

Jimmy Wilmot, Wimorite’s vice president of gaming, said the company looked at what $100 million would create at a greenfield site and compared it to what the company could do if it renovated an existing site. Its analysis concluded that a greenfield site would lead to a much smaller casino, with roughly 300 slots and no table games to start.

“It was easy to see that we could get more jobs, more revenue, to the city and actually be open faster by going” to the developed site, Wilmot said.

The project has financial triggers that would allow for expansion, including an on-site hotel.

Wilmorite expects the casino to create 600 construction jobs, along with 600 permanent positions during the first phase. Its plan includes hiring goals of 40 percent of the permanent jobs to go to women, 30 percent to minorities, and 5 percent to veterans.

Before Wilmorite submits the application to the IGB, Williams will get a chance to review the document to ensure that it includes all that Wilmorite’s agreed to provide.

Wilmot said he expects the IGB to rule on the application by next spring. Construction would then start and take about nine months to complete.

“So (a grand opening) could be as early as the end of 2021, or call it within a year of getting a license from the Illinois gaming board,” he said.

The Danville casino isn’t the only casino being built in the region. In May, the Indiana Gaming Commission approved a license for a Hard Rock casino in Terre Haute, which is about an hour south of Danville. Groundbreaking for the $120 million project has been scheduled for next month, with the venue opening within a year.

Steve Bittenbender

Horse Racing, Sports Betting, Gaming Legislation, Midwest and Gulfport Casinos----Steve Bittenbender is a veteran reporter, and brings more than two decades of experience covering sports, gaming business, and politics and legislation to Casino.org, which he joined in 2019. Based in Louisville, Kentucky -- the epicenter of the US horse racing industry -- Steve has also covered major collegiate and professional sports for the Associated Press and the Louisville Courier Journal, and is frequently featured on local network TV newscasts and podcasts for his horse racing business and legislative expertise. A Reuters contributor, he has also previously served as editor for Government Security News. Steve lives with his wife and son, and is an avid poker player, having learned from his uncle as a wholesome after-school pasttime with cookies and milk. Email: stevebittenbender@casino.org

Share
Published by
Steve Bittenbender