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Hawthorne Casino Bid Plants Seed for Illinois Racinos

5 November 2008

Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney has two important hurdles to clear before its proposed $500,000-million Champions Casino & Resort can become reality.

First, it must be selected as one of the three finalists among the seven locations bidding for Illinois' long-dormant 10th casino license. Then it must be declared the winning bidder when the Illinois Gaming Board makes its decision by year's end.

But even if it doesn't make the cut this time around, the bid stirs up conjecture about a new frontier in the Illinois gaming industry because the site of the development is an existing 117-year-old horse racing facility, the fifth oldest race track in the United States.

A combination of pari-mutuel wagering and casino gambling would make Hawthorne the first "racino" in Illinois.

As such, the Illinois horse racing industry would be a stake holder in the license and reap a 15 percent share of the revenues the casino would generate.

Tim Carey, president of Hawthorne and representative of the development partners, said that the racing operations at the track would be upgraded.

"We would demolish the present grandstand and build a racing facility for this day and age," Carey said. "It would be a smaller, more intimate facility to rival anything that's out there now."

Champions Casino & Resort would be constructed in phases and include, in addition to a 40,000 sq. ft. casino and race track, a 300-room casino hotel; 150,000 sq. ft. water park resort with 400 all-inclusive suites; bowling lounge; restaurants; multi-screen movie theater and a 4,800 outdoor subterranean amphitheater.

"We also want to have the largest sports bar in Illinois," Carey said. "That's why we have Coach Mike Ditka as part of this project."

Ditka, who was present at the press conference announcing the bid, is a former spokesman for Majestic Star Casinos in Gary, Indiana.

"When I was approached by the Carey family about this venture, I was honored and excited," Ditka said. "When I stopped and thought about the magnitude of what can happen here, it makes a whole lot of sense to me. I have not been to a casino in the state of Illinois. And I've been to casinos."

Carey said that the developers would be in a position to open the first phase of the operation in six months, generating "an additional $200 million for the state while the other applicants are still digging holes in the ground".

Strong arguments can also be built around the bids submitted by the other locations, including Waukegan, Des Plaines, Rosemont, Calumet City, Harvey and Country Club Hills, all of which bring exciting plans for a new casino development to the Chicago area.

Even though Champions Casino & Resort would be unique, the most important thing is to at long last get the 10th Illinois casino license up and running after being dormant since July of 1997 and costing the state millions of dollars in lost revenue.

"Over $720 million is spent out of state every year for lack of a competitive casino alternative to service the south side of the Chicagoland area," Carey said.

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:

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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