Waukegan casino license delayed while Potawatomi lawsuit unfolds | MCU Times

Waukegan casino license delayed while Potawatomi lawsuit unfolds

The long process of selecting the developer of a new casino in Waukegan has just gotten longer.

State regulators were expected to nominate a winner in two years’ time and count on the coveted gaming license in northern suburbs on Thursday, but the Illinois Gaming Board postponed action due to an ongoing legal battle waged by a despised operator claiming Waukegan officials “manipulated” their selection process to favor a bid backed by a former state senator.

The Forest County Potawatomi community sued the city in 2019, shortly after the Wisconsin tribe was eliminated from consideration among four bidders for breaking ground at the new casino. Governor JB Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion into law that year that requires host communities to sign bids before they are investigated by the state.

Waukegan made three proposals, including the two remaining finalists weighed in by the Gaming Board: Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts and North Point Casino, which is headed by former Grayslake State Senator Michael Bond, who also runs a slot machine business.

The third group, a joint venture between billionaire casino mogul Neil Bluhm and Churchill Downs Inc., withdrew from consideration earlier this fall.

Potawatomi lawyers have questioned why they were eliminated despite scoring well on a city-contracted consultant’s scoring system for the bids.

Reproduction of the first phase of development for the proposed North Point Casino.

Reproduction of the first phase of development for the proposed North Point Casino.

And in a lawsuit that was not sealed last week, Potawatomi attorneys claimed that former Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham told councilors, who offered to approve, “the culmination of a manipulated process.” Bond poured thousands of dollars into local elections through his video game company Tap Room Gaming ahead of the state gambling expansion.

Lawyers for Waukegan have rejected Potawatomi’s claims, writing in the lawsuits that “this burned land case is factually suspicious,” intended to stifle development and protect the tribe’s Milwaukee casino from potential competition. They accuse the tribe of using “the jurisdiction of the federal court as a means of appealing the licensing decisions of the city of Waukegan.”

The artist's rendering of the proposed

The artist’s rendering of the proposed “American Place” casino in Waukegan.
Provided by Full House Resorts

The gaming council was scheduled to issue a preliminary approval for one of the remaining casino hopes at a meeting Thursday, but administrator Marcus Fruchter said the agency would postpone its vote indefinitely “out of respect for the legal process.”

“This decision is in no way a comment on or a reflection of the IGB’s views on the respective benefits of the pending litigation or of any claims in those litigation,” Fruchter said.

A North Point spokesman declined to comment on the matter, but said in an email: “We respect the Illinois Gaming Board’s decision today and remain committed to building a world-class entertainment destination in Waukegan.”

A federal mediation on the Potawatomi case is scheduled for Nov. 30. The Players’ Council will meet next time on 8 December.

Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter speaks at a August 2019 meeting.

Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter speaks at a August 2019 meeting.
Victor Hilitski / For the Sun-Times

Pritzker’s gambling expansion approved six new casinos, but only one has opened since he signed the law in June 2019. Hard Rock Casino Rockford took its first bets at a temporary location last week.

Tax revenue from the expansion is earmarked for the governor’s $ 45 billion capital infrastructure improvement plan.

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