The Illinois General Assembly has passed legislation that will help the state’s gaming board address potential delays in Full House Resorts’ construction of the American Place casino in Waukegan.
There was some back-and-forth between the House and Senate over Senate Bill 0584 on Thursday before its passage at the close of the veto session. The finished version included a House amendment filed by Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez that gives the Illinois Gaming Board the power to “extend the period during which specified licensees may conduct gaming at a temporary facility by up to 30 months.”
The specified licensee is Full House Resorts, which opened its temporary casino — The Temporary at American Place — in February and recently opened its retail sportsbook run by Circa Sports in early October. State law requires a licensee that opens a temporary casino to open its permanent one within two years of the first wagers being placed at the temporary venue.
The bill’s passage came after the House failed to include a sports wagering provision submitted by Sen. Bill Cunningham, whose amendment had been approved by the Senate. It included the extension but also looked to potentially tweak the current sports wagering rules regarding Illinois-based schools. Such wagering is currently limited to pre-game bets made only at retail sportsbooks.
The final legislation, now sent to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker for his signature, makes no changes to the Sports Wagering Act, which means the current rules covering college betting will be in place until July 1. Any changes will have to be addressed during next year’s legislative session.
The extension amendment relates to Full House because Bally’s, which is building a $1.7 billion casino in downtown Chicago, recently opened its temporary casino at Medinah Temple and was already granted a 12-month extension by the IGB. It pushes back the allowable opening of the permanent venue to be built in the River West neighborhood of the city to October 2026.
A revived lawsuit could bring headaches
The potential extension for Full House is a contingency following a state appellate district court’s decision in August that gave the Forest County Potawatomi Community legal standing to continue its lawsuit against the city of Waukegan and the Illinois Gaming Board.
The tribe claimed then-Mayor Sam Cunningham authorized a “rigged process” in which the Potawatomi Community was not among the three bidders the city forwarded to the IGB in November 2019 for selection, despite ranking first or second in most metrics of the application process. It originally bid $5.6 million to buy the plot of land for the proposed casino, the lowest among the four bids, but then submitted a supplemental bid of $12 million it claimed was not considered.
The tribe’s lawsuit, which was filed in October 2019 and caused a delay in determining the winning bid, was dismissed by Cook County Circuit Judge Cecilia Horan on Dec. 7, 2021, who said in her opinion the tribe lacked standing.
The IGB unanimously tabbed Full House as its preferred operator the following day, beginning its process to bring casino gaming to Waukegan. Horan’s decision was reversed by the state’s First District Appellate Court over the summer, with Judge Raymond Mitchell noting the Potawatomi’s $25,000 nonrefundable application fee to be considered for the Waukegan license provided legal standing to file the lawsuit.
The Potawatomi operate one of the biggest regional casinos in the Midwest in Milwaukee, approximately 60 miles north of Waukegan. The opinion that gave them legal standing now puts the tribe’s lawsuit back in the lower court, though Waukegan city officials and the Illinois Gaming Board could bring the case before the state Supreme Court.
If the Potawatomi are successful, it is possible the bidding process would be reopened from the beginning, which would cause all sorts of legal and logistical issues given Full House has been operating the Temporary for nearly eight months and was awarded a full casino owner’s license by the IGB in June. It hopes to bring a $400 million venue to Lake County approximately 40 miles north of Chicago. The city of Waukegan is required to present potential licensees to the IGB for final consideration, an extra layer due to local laws.
Full House spared few, if any expenses, on The Temporary, and it has quickly proven a popular draw in the northeast part of Illinois accessible to suburbanites north of Chicago and southeastern Wisconsin. The Temporary has had more than 527,000 admissions and generated $60.8 million in adjusted gross revenue since its opening, including close to $7.3 million for October. It has generated more than $8.9 million in state taxes, and an additional $3.6 million in local taxes.
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