Potawatomi Tribe Among Six Developers Bidding for Waukegan, Illinois Casino

Posted on: August 6, 2019, 01:53h. 

Last updated on: August 6, 2019, 02:07h.

Waukegan’s search for a casino developer has produced six candidates, officials in the northwest Illinois town said Monday.

Waukegan casino
The Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee has been the biggest gambling operation in the region for decades, but a new wave of gambling expansion threatens that status. (Image: Potawatomi Hotel & Casino)

Of the six that submitted proposals by yesterday’s 3 p.m. deadline, two announced their applications publicly: the Forest County Potawatomi tribe of Wisconsin, which operates the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, and regional casino operator Warner Gaming. Warner has numerous properties in Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, and Iowa.

The Waukegan casino was authorized as part of a massive gambling expansion package, signed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker in late May, which will turn the state into the gambling capital of the Midwest. The bill paved the way for a large scale casino in Chicago, as well as five others in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The Waukegan and Rockford gambling operations are the only two that will be built from the ground-up. The others are existing racetracks in Danville, Downstate Williamson County, and Cook County, which will be authorized to offer full-scale casino gaming.

The bill also legalized land-based and mobile sports betting, while increasing the number of video gambling machines, as well as the maximum bet on the machines.

Shifting Landscape

Officials in Waukegan and Rockford are wasting no time moving the process along. Rockford, in particular, is eager to get its casino up and running before a project proposed by the Ho-Chunk Nation can be built in the City of Beloit, Wisconsin, just across the state line.

The Beloit project will also impact the Potawatomi, whose Milwaukee casino is currently the biggest gaming operation in the region and one of the biggest entertainment destinations in the Midwest, with six million annual visitors.

The Ho-Chunk have proposed a $450 million resort that will challenge the dominance of the Milwaukee venue, and the Potawatomi’s interest in establishing operations further south in Waukegan is likely a defensive maneuver.

In a news release Monday, the CEO and General Manager of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, Rodney Ferguson, touted the tribe’s decades-long experience in the region’s gaming market, which he said made it a “natural fit” for the Waukegan venue.

He also highlighted the city’s shared history with the Potawatomi people, noting that the name “Waukegan” came from the Potawatomi word for “trading post.”

Warner Partners with Ex-Lawmaker

Warner Gaming, meanwhile, has teamed up with former Democratic State Senator Michael Bond on its proposal. The Chicago Tribune notes that Bond was “at the center of an unprecedented level of spending during the Waukegan aldermanic races this spring.”

Bond has been criticized for voting to legalize video gambling in Illinois in 2009 and subsequently forming a company that now owns more than 900 slot and video poker machines in the state, with a large concentration in his former legislative district.

He told the CT he expected Waukegan’s selection process to be “fair, open, and transparent.”

City officials will now begin vetting all six candidates and are expected to finalize a shortlist within the next three weeks. This will be followed by another round of interviews and a public hearing scheduled for late September.

Two finalists will be selected by October 25, and the matter will be forwarded to the Illinois Gaming Board for the ultimate decision.