Potawatomi Tribe Sues City of Waukegan Over Snubbed Casino Bid

Posted on: October 25, 2019, 09:26h. 

Last updated on: October 25, 2019, 10:41h.

The Forest County Potawatomi tribe of Wisconsin is suing the city of Waukegan, Illinois, for rejecting its proposal to build a casino on the site of a ghost shopping mall in the city.

The Potawatomi casino proposal for Waukegan was rebuffed by the city council last month, but for all the wrong reasons, claims the tribe. (Image: Potawatomi Hotel & Casino)

The Waukegan casino is part of a sprawling gambling expansion package enacted by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker earlier this year. As well as Waukegan, the bill authorizes new casinos in Rockford, Danville, the South suburbs, downtown Chicago, and downstate Williamson County.

Last week, the city council rubber-stamped bids from the tribe’s three competitors — Full House Resorts, North Point Casino, and Rivers Casino Waukegan – sending them to the Illinois Gaming Board, which will make the final decision. But the Potawatomi project didn’t make the cut.

Fighting Over Price

Now the tribe is seeking a court order that will invalidate the certifications of the three competing proposals, because it claims the city council partially based its decision on a flawed and “inaccurate” report that undervalued the tribe’s contribution.

The lawsuit speaks for itself,” Waukegan Potawatomi Casino spokesman George Ermert told The Chicago Tribune Thursday. “The city used a flawed process and violated the open meetings law to certify potential casino operators, and we believe those certifications are invalid.”

The report in question, complied by Johnson Consultants, asserted the tribe was offering $5.6 million to buy the plot of land on which the casino would be built, the lowest of the four bids.

But the tribe argues it didn’t quote any specific price for the land in its application at all, and neither was it required to. It merely stated it would pay within 15 percent of the plot’s market value.

The tribe later submitted supplementary materials emphasizing it was prepared to pay $12 million for the plot, which was not included in the Johnson Consultants report.

According to the lawsuit, the report rated the Potawatomi as first or second in every other category except for the purchase price, but ultimately ranked the entire proposal last – a decision the tribe describes as “inexplicable.”

‘Lawsuit Invalid’

But a lawyer for Waukegan, Bob Long, told The Daily Herald the suit was “factually and legally invalid” because the city had the land valued in May at $5.625 million, which is why Johnson Consultants used that figure as a benchmark.

The lawsuit also claims the city’s decision was in breach of the Illinois Open Meetings Act because the final decision was not taken at a hearing that was open to members of the public.

The tribe owns the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, which is currently the biggest gaming operation in the region and one of the biggest entertainment destinations in the Midwest, with six million visitors per year.

Its application highlighted the shared history between the city of Waukegan and the Potawatomi people, noting that the name “Waukegan” came from the Potawatomi word for “trading post.”

The scheduled court date is Jan. 24, 2020.