Illinois Towns to Battle for Riverboat License

Just days after the Illinois Gaming Board revoked the license of Emerald Casino, one-time rival communities once again are preparing to join a prolonged battle for the lucrative riverboat license.

The long-dormant license, under legislation passed in 1999, was to be moved to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, with part of the revenue from its operation earmarked to support the Illinois horse racing industry. That plan has been tied up in various courts since shortly after it became law.

On Dec. 20, the gaming board finally voted to strip Emerald of the license following the recommendation of a special hearing officer, because of questions about reputed organized crime connections of some parties to the deal. That decision was a necessary step in reallocating the license and getting a casino in operation somewhere to generate tax revenue for state and local governments. In addition to horse racing, a portion of the casino's proceeds would be earmarked for other communities and special interests, including University of Illinois athletics.

However, a federal appeals court almost immediately blocked the gaming board from reissuing the license pending resolution of some other legal entanglements in the convoluted case.

If those issues are resolved, at least three other suburbs that bid for the license earlier are expected to re-enter the competition.

Waukegan mayor Richard Hyde, whose far north Chicago suburb worked with Harrah's in an earlier bidding derby for the license, said Waukegan would be willing to try again. David Niemeyer, village manager in Des Plaines, located near Rosemont, told the Chicago Tribune, "We actually are trying to set up a meeting with our potential developer."

And Joseph Strezelczyk, mayor of south suburban Summit, said his area needs and deserves the casino. "This would be a tremendous opportunity to serve the poor south suburbs," he said.

The city of Chicago, which is seeking legislative approval for a downtown land-based casino, is not among the likely applicants.