Casinos Broke Their Promise To Illinois
In 1992, William Weidner, the president of Hollywood Casino of Aurora Inc. at the time, traveled to Springfield to thwart the plans of the Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley for a $2 billion “mega-casino” in the city’s financial district.
Weidner and other members of the so-called “riverboat alliance” were concerned that the existence of such a facility in Chicago would detract from the growth of the riverboat casinos they were operating in Aurora, Joliet, Elgin, and other towns downstate.
This was a self-serving action. But Weidner didn’t express himself in that manner.
Weidner and his team were successful. The pavilion from which the “cruises” started at the two-boat Hollywood Casino in Aurora featured a gorgeous steakhouse and an epic, Vegas-style buffet, in addition to gleaming display cases showcasing Charlton Heston’s Roman toga from “Ben Hur,” a bowler worn by Charlie Chaplin, and the “Zorro” cape worn by Douglas Fairbanks Sr. The casino scheduled (and paid for) high roller-targeted performances by Liza Minnelli, Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, and Tom Jones at the Paramount Arts Center across the street.
A new river walk, hotels, restaurants, and apartments were envisioned for Aurora. It appeared that the law had made the proper decision. Elgin and Joliet each have well-known riverboats.
All of that is now finished.
But what about the commitments made to Illinois‘ downtown? Suddenly, no one seemed to be aware that the entire Illinois legalization of gambling was based on downtown redevelopment.
It appears that Illinois casinos have evolved into NFL teams, an expert at lobbying and dangling the carrot of revenue to cash-strapped localities but on their own constantly shifting terms.
Here’s a lesson to be learned. As they strive to make more money, casinos alter the rules. Chicago’s long-awaited new casino has already undergone an intriguing change. In its initial announcement, the city stated that Bally’s had been chosen as the company with which it would be doing business and boasted about the Illinois Gaming Board’s likely swift approval because of Bally’s prior involvement in the sector.
However, in recent days, we’ve learned that, in addition to the fact that Bally’s is selling the property for the casino and leasing it back from it, Oak Street Real Estate Capital has committed to spending up to $300 million more in additional money for the casino’s development. Interesting questions are raised regarding the degree of Oak Street Real Estate Capital’s involvement and the gaming board’s response.
Of course, since the 1990s, the gaming industry has changed. Most significantly, the popularity of sports betting has skyrocketed, and casinos now face many of the same challenges as downtown office buildings. They need to convince gamblers that they’re a good enough time to convince them to visit a central location rather than just gamble on their phones.
Casinos today essentially market a combination of convenience and a party atmosphere as entertainment has made a comeback.
Over the past 20 years, this business has brought in millions of cash to Illinois, and legislators haven’t always been on top of things. We will only restate two unchanging truths.
Casinos are unpredictable businesses that, at least outside of Las Vegas, are unable to revitalize cities on their own.
And then they will ask for the stars after making moon-related promises.