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US – Churchill Downs puts forward plans for Rivers Casino Waukegan

By - 7 October 2019

At last week’s Waukegan City Council Special Meeting the developer, operator and owners of the state’s most successful casino, Rivers Casino Des Plaines, shared its vision for generating as much as $5m more per year for the city of Waukegan and other local communities than other bidders.

A major expansion of gambling in Illinois has seen cities including Waukegan, Chicago, Rockford and Danville piecing together plans for casinos after Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation approving six new gaming floors in the state.

Five proposals have been put forward in Waukegan.

The Rivers Casino Waukegan team also committed to donating two percent of pre-tax income back to the community through ongoing charitable contributions, which they estimate will be $1m annually at the beginning. Local municipal leaders will choose how Rivers’ charitable donations are used and these resources could be directed to local classrooms and educational causes.

“Over the next 50 years as we grow, it’s projected that Rivers Casino Waukegan will provide over $90m in charitable contributions to local communities which can be dedicated to public schools and educational causes,” said Neil Bluhm, chairman of Rush Street Gaming. “By our third year in operation, we project $11m in annual tax revenue for local host communities—the most of any of the bidders. The city of Waukegan will benefit from an additional $2m in annual admissions taxes as well. Based on our superior performance, as we grow, the tax payments to local communities will increase significantly from these initial levels.”

Rivers’ owners, Churchill Downs Incorporated and Rush Street Gaming, outlined how they would bring their combined expertise as developers and operators of some of the most successful gaming and entertainment venues in the country to Waukegan at the Fountain Square site at the September 18 public hearing. The companies’ proven marketing and customer service approach will attract high-end patrons to Waukegan and generate $282m in gross revenue by the fifth year of operation—resulting in more local taxes for Waukegan and neighbouring communities than any other bidder.

Underscoring their commitment to positively impacting the local community as quickly as possible, Rivers also promised the city monthly payments totalling $6m a year in lieu of tax revenue during construction, starting only six months from the date a gaming license is awarded if the developers elect to expedite construction of the permanent entertainment complex and forgo a temporary casino. The Rivers team reiterated that they will be ready to go on day one of being approved and are already suitable casino owners and operators in Illinois.

“Churchill Downs Incorporated and Rush Street gaming are licensed and approved by regulators in 40 jurisdictions, including the Illinois Gaming Board, and we have unmatched experience in running successful casino and entertainment venues,” said Bill Carstanjen, Chief Executive Officer of Churchill Downs Incorporated. “We are proud to partner with Rush Street Gaming to bring our shared vision for a world-class entertainment destination to Waukegan and there is no doubt we will be the city’s best and most successful partner.”

Rivers touted its database of nearly 700,000 customers and its 10-year, $150 million investment in building the Rivers brand as a tremendous advantage to Waukegan and among the reasons it can deliver the highest local tax revenue to the city.

City officials heard from numerous team members and testimonials of elected officials that Rivers keeps its commitment to hiring and contracting within the local community.

“We’re especially proud of our record of hiring a diverse local workforce. At Des Plaines, 60 percent of our employees are minorities as well as a third of our executives,” Mr. Bluhm said. “We spend over $40 million a year with local Illinois businesses and over the past four years we’ve spent $37m with minority- and women-owned businesses and disadvantaged business enterprises.”

Rivers Casino Des Plaines earns more than twice as much gaming revenue as any other casino in Illinois. The ownership team will bring that successful model to Waukegan and has proposed a 1,625-gaming-seat Rivers Casino Waukegan. In addition to the tax revenue and charitable contributions, Rivers Casino Waukegan expects to create over 1,200 permanent jobs; 900 union construction jobs and pump over $150 million annually into the local Waukegan and Lake County economy.

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