Despite delays, Danville officials still hopeful for casino

DANVILLE — When Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a gambling-expansion law in June 2019 that allowed for six new casino licenses in Illinois, Danville officials were ecstatic.

More than 18 months later, and after submitting an updated bid in November, they’re still hopeful.

“Now we’re simply waiting on the state,” Mayor Rickey Williams said. “No one has been approved yet, and COVID set everything back.”

Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said in October that the coronavirus pandemic had delayed many of the steps that are part of the application process.

“COVID-19 made certain routine IGB activities — such as applicant and key person interviews, site visits, fingerprint analysis, and obtaining official tax documents and other records from state, local and federal agencies — difficult and at times impossible,” he said.

The gaming board is supposed to approve licenses within a year or provide a written explanation for why it hasn’t.

“The IGB does not comment on pending investigations of new casino applicants,” spokesman Gene O’Shea said. “Additionally, the board does not speculate on timelines associated with any licensing decision.”

Danville’s application was submitted Nov. 23 after city officials approved a new bid in August.

The first bid, from Haven Gaming LLC, was withdrawn after the gaming board deemed it incomplete.

The new bid came from a reconfigured entity called Danville Development LLC, which is planning a casino at the site of a former warehouse at 204 Eastgate Drive, about a mile northwest of the original site.

The project will be led by Rochester, N.Y.-based Wilmorite Construction, which has three phases planned for the casino, the later ones possibly being in a larger complex on Jones Road closer to Interstate 74.

Since the city approved the bid, Wilmorite has secured Golden Nugget branding for the casino, along with online sports wagering and a Landry’s steakhouse.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to build this casino,” said James Wilmot, vice president of gaming development for Wilmorite. “We’re hopeful that come spring, we’ll have some more feedback and possibly a license in place so we can get up and running.”

Once the license is approved, Wilmot said construction should begin within two months and be completed within nine months of breaking ground.

He also said he’s not too worried about COVID-19 affecting the casino industry.

“We haven’t seen a lot of foreclosures. Everybody’s surviving,” Wilmot said. But “it’s certainly added a new list of challenges and made the industry look at what it’s doing and how.”

Wilmorite added 10,000 square feet to its original plan to better handle new restrictions like the ones imposed during the pandemic, and Wilmot said the Danville casino will have the benefit of learning from what has worked well at others.

“We’ve been able to sample industry leaders before us,” he said. And “we’re certainly hoping the vaccine will be rolled out and readily taken by the public.”

He also said a casino in Terre Haute, Ind., which received its license in May, will provide some competition.

“It’s something we’ve taken into account since the beginning,” Wilmot said. “It will ding our numbers, but those are numbers we’ve shown to the city, and we’re looking forward to competing for that customer.”

At a city council meeting in August, Wilmorite said it expected the casino to bring in about $66 million annually, with about $6.2 million of that going to the city.

Designs include 500 slot machines, 10 tables, the steakhouse restaurant and a food court, and more than 700 parking spaces.

Williams said having the Golden Nugget branding will help draw its loyalty-club members to the Danville location for different rewards.

And being a new location, “we just have some different things to offer that some of the other places don’t,” Williams said. “I think it’s going to be good to have that national partnership and recognition.”

Alderman Mike Puhr said having the Golden Nugget branding is “very good news.”

And Steve Foster, who recently retired from the Danville City Council, said he remains optimistic that the city will one day have a casino, something local officials have put decades into lobbying the state for.

“Ultimately we’re going to get a casino some time, somewhere,” he said.

If it receives a license, Danville Development LLC will pay $1 million to Riverfront Development Project, $1 million to the local Boys & Girls Club and $1 million in municipal improvements.

Boys & Girls Club of Danville Executive Director Rob Gifford said he’s eager to hear what the state decides.

“If you hear something, let me know,” he said.

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