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Devestated by Loss, Empress GM Looks to the Future

22 April 2009

That fateful Friday, March 20 fire was still fresh in the mind of Empress Casino Joliet, Illinois general manager Frank Quigley when I sat down to speak with him about what's going to happen at the property in the wake of the total destruction of the pavilion.

"Once the firefighters saw that the pavilion fire was getting ahead of them, they took everybody and shifted them to the gaming side and started fighting the fire by pushing it away from the casino," Quigley said. "We very easily could have lost the whole casino, but it's perfectly fine."

Quigley must shift his focus to the re-opening of the casino now that the $50-million renovation project that was in progress in the pavilion went up in flames. The first phase of that project was nearing completion with a new buffet, mid-range restaurant, feature bar and entertainment venue set to open June 1.

"At the same time we were taking advantage of a big piece of vacant casino space that we had on the barge," Quigley said. "We were in the process of building a brand new VIP lounge, a new high end gaming area, and a new kitchen to service the lounge. We're going to accelerate that process now.

"The beauty of this is that we have so much room on the barge that we'll be able to figure out a way to use that kitchen to create another restaurant, buffet, or whatever."

When asked whether or not the casino operations would be re-opened by late June or early July, Quigley responded by saying:

"Our goal is to get it done in no later than 90 days, however, I want to qualify that by saying that we'll get it done as soon as possible. If that's 30 days great, if it's 60 days great; it's too early for me to say. We've got so much to do and figure it out. If I could do it by tomorrow I would do it."

"We have a very roomy casino, so we'll be able to consolidate and have more room to put some food outlets on the barge," Quigley said. "We don't know what that will be yet, but we're brainstorming those ideas right now. The good news is we'll have the kitchen facility out there to do it, and we believe we could have that kitchen facility finished within a couple months."

It's difficult to look at the bright side with a tragedy of this magnitude so recent, but Quigley is already looking ahead to when a completely new Empress will rise from the ashes.

"It was an old property and needed to have a face lift," he said. "We had a great thing going on with the renovation, however we weren't going to get everything we wanted to get in that first $50 million project. When the smoke clears this property is going to be magnificent."

The personal side of what happened at the property is very important to Quigley, who said that while a lot of the offices and personal property were saved, some employees suffered losses which hit them very hard.

"The marketing office is gone along with food and beverage and the receiving office," he revealed. "Our chef had things like his own personal recipes that were handed down through families that were destroyed. My director of facilities had an incredible sports memorabilia collection that was lost."

Quigley said that another big factor to be addressed before the re-opening of the casino can become a reality is figuring out a way to get people to and from the barge.

"We've got some ideas," he said. "Creating the tunnel during our pavilion renovation which took customers to the casino was a seamless execution of phasing. We may do the same concept and bring it all the way out to the parking lot."

This would enable workers to construct the new pavilion around the temporary entrance-way to the casino barge, and even leave room to the move the tunnel during the rebuilding process.

Meanwhile, Quigley has sent a letter to all Empress customers to brief them on what will happen until the property reopens.

Guests who are NOW player's club members may redeem their April direct mail cash coupons and food offers at Hollywood Casino Aurora. Both locations are owned by Penn National Gaming. All that's required is free membership in Club Hollywood.

Players may only redeem one Hollywood or one Empress offer per person per day. Empress customers may also pay markers and redeem slot ticket vouchers and gaming table chips at Hollywood through April 20.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp