The two finalists for the south suburban casino license squared off on Oct. 28 to refine their pitches to the Illinois Gaming Board and to seek an edge before the board makes its final decision.
The board eliminated the two other candidates Oct. 20, leaving Wind Creek Illinois (WCI) and South Suburban Development LLC as the finalists. WCI proposes to operate a casino in Homewood and East Hazel Crest, and SSD plans to operate a casino in Matteson.
At the Oct. 28 meeting, representatives from each firm focused on convincing the board that its plans would bring the most benefit to the South Suburbs and the state of Illinois in terms of jobs, revenue, economic impact and diversity.
In some respects, the two proposals are similar in shape. Both firms assert a commitment to diversity and have significant minority stakeholders.
Both will bring hundreds of jobs to the area. WCI estimates a total of 1,400 jobs, 800 of those permanent and the rest related to construction. South Suburban Development proposes to bring about 1,200 jobs, 600 of those permanent.
One point where the candidates attempted to distinguish themselves was on location. The WCI casino would be located adjacent to Interstate 80/294 at the Halsted Street interchange. Traffic on I-80/294 reaches more than 77 million vehicles annually, and proximity to that amount of traffic is one reason the company chose the Homewood-East Hazel Crest location.
That accessibility will help keep casino patrons in Illinois and possibly attract some from Indiana, according to Brent Pinkson, executive vice president and chief operating officer.
SSD would be located at the site of the former Lincoln Mall, which is near Interstate 57. Although the traffic volume is less, Janie Dillard with Choctaw Nation gaming suggested the Matteson location would be better because casino patrons traveling on I-80 could easily go a few more miles and find better bargains in Indiana.
The Matteson site, she said, would benefit from being more than 30 minutes from any casino competition.
WCI also touted endorsements of its site by the top three gaming research companies, Innovations Group, Global Market Advisors and Spectrum Gaming.
"They deemed our site the best location in the Southland, that it would produce over $20 million more than the Matteson site," Pinkston said.
Brendan Bussmann, partner and director of government affairs for Global Market Advisors, spoke on behalf of Wind Creek Illinois' application.
He said the GMA analysis took into account a number of factors, including location and expansion potential. GMA concluded the WCI site would generate $140 million more in tax revenue than the Matteson site over 20 years.
"That's significant dollars. There probably isn't a more unique and desirable site for being able to drive revenue than Wind Creek Illinois," Bussmann said. "This is the first time in my career where you've literally had all three leading companies say, 'This is the best project.'"
SSD representatives countered with a description of how the casino would anchor the Market Square Crossing development at the former mall site, expanding the entertainment and recreation options beyond gaming to establish the site as a regional draw.
The gaming board is expected to make a decision by January. Its next meeting will be Nov. 18, but the south suburban license is not on the agenda. At the subsequent meeting Dec. 8 the license decision could be on the agenda.