The state of Illinois seemingly is hoping to replicate the success of the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana by placing the new south suburban Cook County casino an identical six miles from the state line, and immediately adjacent to the same highway.
The Illinois Gaming Board unanimously agreed Wednesday the Wind Creek Illinois casino plan is preliminarily suitable for the south suburbs and should be the sole gaming applicant to advance to the final stages of the casino licensing process.
Wind Creek's proposal calls for a $440 million casino and luxury hotel tower to open in mid-2023 immediately south of Interstate 80/294 at Halsted Street on the border of Homewood and East Hazel Crest, Illinois.
Records show the casino initially will be about 80% of the size of the Hard Rock gaming floor with 1,350 slot machines and 56 table games, but with the potential to grow to the maximum of 2,000 slot machines permitted in Illinois casinos, or about the same number of slots as the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.
The facility also will feature a 15,800-square foot live entertainment center, a 35,000-square foot conference center, three restaurants, two bars, an outdoor skyline lounge with views of downtown Chicago and climate-protected parking directly connected to the casino.
The attached four-diamond hotel is slated to offer 252 rooms, including 53 suites, along with an indoor pool and spa. Guests also will be able to golf at the nearby Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood.
"Wind Creek Hospitality will not just build a casino, but truly create a community in the south suburbs — with job creation, community investment and sustained operational excellence," said Jay Dorris, Wind Creek president and CEO.
"Our proposed four-diamond facility will bring a first-class entertainment destination to the Southland region and maximize profits to generate the most revenue for the state."
Members of the Illinois Gaming Board did not publicly discuss why they selected Wind Creek over a competing proposal to redevelop the massive former Lincoln Mall site at U.S. 30 and Interstate 57 in Matteson into a casino, dining and entertainment destination.
The board's decision came after a two-hour closed door meeting. It previously voted in October to eliminate proposals for Calumet City and Lynwood casino developments from the south suburban license competition.
Wind Creek Hospitality is a business enterprise of the Alabama-based Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Wind Creek currently operates three major casino resorts in Alabama, one in Pennsylvania, and one each on the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Aruba, as well as four additional gaming facilities.
Brent Pinkston, Wind Creek chief operating officer, told the Illinois Gaming Board Oct. 28 that multiple independent studies show an easily accessible casino adjacent to the Tri-State Tollway will produce between $130 million and $140 million in additional state tax revenue over 20 years compared to the Matteson site.
"It presents the opportunity for getting some of those Indiana tax dollars," Pinkston said.
Indeed, the location of the $300 million Hard Rock Casino adjacent to Interstate 80/94 at the Burr Street exit in Gary helped make it the top earning casino in Indiana for October, in part by drawing thousands of Illinois residents each day who previously weren't willing to navigate to Gary's former Majestic Star casinos at Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan.
Wind Creek said it expects to create at least 800 full-time jobs in Homewood-East Hazel Crest when the casino and hotel are fully operational, along with 600 temporary construction jobs.
In addition, more than 30% of the facility's annual contracts and purchase orders are earmarked for minority-, women-, veteran- or LGBTQ-owned businesses, company officials said.
To further share the benefits of the casino, Wind Creek, East Hazel Crest and Homewood have agreed to create the Southland Public Benefit Fund to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students and health services for the south suburban region through partnerships with South Suburban College, Prairie State College, and Moraine Valley Community College, the Ingalls Development Foundation and Advocate South Suburban hospital.
"Throughout this process, we have reiterated the belief that we offer the best location in and for the south suburban region — and will deliver on our commitments to job creation, community and economic investment, sustained operational excellence, and a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion in all phases of construction and operation," Dorris said.
Separately, the Illinois Gaming Board agreed to select Full House Resorts LLC as the sole finalist for the new Waukegan casino license.
Full House currently operates the Rising Star Casino in southeastern Indiana and last month nearly was selected by the Indiana Gaming Commission for the Terre Haute casino license that preliminarily was awarded to Churchill Downs.