The Temporary Laying The Groundwork For Full House Resorts In Illinois

New Waukegan casino enables operator to carve out its spot for Illinois and Wisconsin customers
Waukegan Mayor Ann B. Taylor (l) and Full House Resorts CEO Dan Lee cut the ceremonial ribbon to open The Temporary casino.

Though The Temporary by American Place is the 13th casino Dan Lee has opened, the Full House Resorts president and CEO found the process leading up to Friday night’s grand opening for the licensed casino in northeastern Illinois to be distinctive.

“It was kind of liberating,” Lee told US Bets in an interview shortly after cutting the ceremonial grand opening ribbon with Waukegan Mayor Ann B. Taylor. “Because when we built the Bay at St. Louis, in three years it was going to be a third-year building that costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We didn’t worry [here] about the details of what the carpet is and exactly what everything looked like. For this, it was like, ‘What carpet’s available, we need it for three years. What’s available for three years?’”

The Illinois Gaming Board named Full House Resorts as the final applicant for the Waukegan casino license back in December 2021, more than two years after the gaming expansion bill Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law. Logistical delays pushed the planned opening back from last summer, creating an Olympic-caliber sprint for all involved as the process from first shovel to first bet took eight months.

The timeline was all the more impressive considering the city of Waukegan and Full House did not have a formal lease signed for the land being used.

“We were negotiating the lease with the city at the same time we were building it,” Lee explained. “They gave us permission to build on their land, but we really didn’t have a lease for the land. But we went on faith that we would get there — we simply had an outline of what the lease would be.

“We told our lawyers, ‘Don’t negotiate. Expanse the outline. Just take the words that match the outline.’ The mayor said the same thing to her lawyers, and we had no problems at all.”

Lee’s somewhat glib description tracks with him relishing the chance to enter the Illinois market and eager to take on all comers. American Place, should it open as expected in 2026, has the potential to dramatically upend the status quo for casino gaming and retail sports wagering in Chicago and the surrounding area, if The Temporary is any indication.

The Sprung structure made with Tesla’s ribs

The Temporary

Perhaps the best way to describe The Temporary is that if you did not know you were walking into a casino that is under an enormous tent, you would never know it is a casino under an enormous tent. Based on Lee’s estimates when comparing it to the $400 million project pitched for the permanent venue — the CEO said American Place will cost 10 times that of The Temporary — the base price for the three-year facility was at least $40 million and may have ranged closer to $50 million when factoring inflation and straightening out supply chain issues.

That money looks to have been well spent. The Temporary has 1,000 slots, practically all of them large-screen and high-definition, along with 25 table games. It opened two restaurants — Asia-Azteca and L’Américain — with a third set to open in April, and there are two Airstreamers offering finger foods and sandwiches. Circa Sports already has defined space for its eventual retail sportsbook, having also agreed to be its mobile partner.

The Sprung structure, though, also allowed Full House some creative liberty with its high ceilings. Lee fondly talked about the lightning-like process of approving the chandelier made of canoes that is the centerpiece of the venue above the central bar. The process of obtaining the needed Sprung structure parts will probably go down in Full House lore as told by Lee:

“It’s called that not because it’s sprung into place. It’s owned by a family named Sprung based out of Calgary. It’s been around 100 years. We were putting this together, we decided to build this facility, and Phil Sprung called me. He said, ‘I don’t want to feel like a car salesman or something, but because of the supply chain issues, I only have so many of these aluminum ribs, and I’m not sure when I can get more because they come from China.

“And I’m like, ‘What are you telling me?’ ‘Well if you don’t order them quickly, I may not be able to fill it quickly…’ And I said, ‘Phil, I already signed the purchase requisition.’ And he said, ‘When did you do that?’ I said, ‘As soon as you told me you were running out of ribs.’ And he said, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘I’ll wire you the money this afternoon.’ I found out later that we stole Tesla’s 10 (ribs). Tesla has an assembly plant the size of one of these and they wanted a second one for another assembly line. But their purchase department wasn’t as fast as we are and we got their 10.”

Eager to tap an underserved casino market

Temporary casino

The Temporary is 30 miles north of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines — the bellcow of Illinois casino revenue. Waukegan is 40 miles north of Chicago, where Bally’s is waiting to be approved by the IGB for its $1.8 billion venue in the River North neighborhood. It is also 60 miles south of Milwaukee, where Potawatomi Casino currently is the only gaming option for a good portion of southeastern Wisconsin residents.

Counting just Illinois demographics, The Temporary is in a prime location for patrons to visit. Lake County has nearly 700,000 people and is the third-densest county in Illinois, with more than 1,500 people per square mile. As of 2020, it had a median annual income of nearly $39,000 — 10% higher than Cook County, which includes Chicago.

Lee figures The Temporary can siphon bettors from Rivers in northern Illinois who will prefer the convenience of a 15-minute drive within the county versus the 30-minute trip to Des Plaines. And he already has made inroads on Potawatomi by luring some dealers to The Temporary, calling his venue a “meritocracy, since we do not promote based on whether you’re a tribal member or not.”

“We’re the only casino in Lake County, and that’s 700,000 people. It’s also one of the wealthier counties in the country. We are the closest casino to almost one million people, so you just start with that,” he added. “Second, build a nice casino. The biggest part of the revenue was increased gambling from people who live near us. People who live in Gurnee and after work want to gamble. … If someone lives in Milwaukee, they’re going to gamble at Potawatomi. If they live in Lake Forest or Libertyville, they’re going to come here.”

Lee was also bullish on drawing business from establishments in the surrounding area that have video gaming terminals. VGT play is the biggest generator of gaming taxes in Illinois, but Lee thinks there’s a subset of its patrons who will welcome a change of scenery.

“The VGTs that are in a few places, they do pretty big numbers. I think a chunk of that business comes to us,” he said. “If you take Rivers Casino, which does $600 million in [annual] revenue, Potawatomi does $400 million, and then the Grand Victoria does over $100 million. So those three do $1.1 billion. I think we can get 10 percent of that. That’s $100 million, and they’re all having fun. For us to make this work, we don’t need much more of that.”

Still some needs for a fully operating venue

Circa Sportsbook View IL

The timeline for Circa opening its retail sportsbook is uncertain. The process to apply for an organizational sports wagering license can only begin after the IGB awards an owners’ casino license, and Full House only has a temporary operating permit at this juncture. Circa did apply for a Management Services Provider license for mobile wagering purposes last May, and it is one of five such applications the state agency is reviewing.

Hiring in a time of historically low unemployment also is a challenge, though Lee said hiring in general is part of the “holistic challenge” new casinos face. He noted Full House sought and received the IGB’s permission to translate the agency’s 30-page application for a gaming license to Spanish for prospective employees, because approximately half of all applicants speak Spanish. But for employee and patron alike, the biggest selling point of The Temporary will be the allure it creates while Full House builds its full venue.

“I want people to walk in thinking low expectations and walk in the building and say, ‘Holy cow! This is better than I expected,'” Lee said. “But it’s also a way of saying this is just the appetizer. From the employer perspective, we will hire more employees.

“So if you come here now and work as a dealer, maybe you’ll be a pit boss next door. [It’s] an easy way to a promotion when we move to the bigger facility. When you come to work for us, you’re not working for The Temporary, you’re working for American Place. We have you in a temporary facility, but the real deal, which will be very exciting, is next door.”

All photos by Chris Altruda


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