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Illinois' 10th casino opens in Des Plaines

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1 Illinois' 10th casino opens in Des Plaines on Tue Jul 19, 2011 4:17 pm

hatien


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CHICAGO (AP) — The 10th casino in Illinois opened Monday after years of legal and regulatory battles and amid a push for a massive gambling expansion in the state — even as gaming revenues have dropped along with the rest of the economy.

The Rivers Casino in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines is betting its success on a new facility complete with a 44,000-square-foot gaming floor filled with more than 1,050 slot machines and 48 table games offering blackjack and craps to roulette and baccarat. It was jammed with people curious to get a first look on opening day.

"It really is like going to Las Vegas," said longtime Chicago developer Neil Bluhm, the chairman of Midwest Gaming, which owns the casino.

Midwest Gaming was picked in 2008 as the winner of the state's unused 10th casino license. That resurrected the unused license, which had been dormant since 1997 and mired in legal and administrative disputes over a proposed casino project others wanted to build in Rosemont, a Chicago suburb tainted by alleged mob connections.

With the Des Plaines casino now up and running, Illinois could get more gambling houses if some lawmakers get their way.

Before going home on summer break, lawmakers passed a bill in May that would add five more casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Park City in Lake County and in a southern suburb of Chicago. The measure, which has yet to be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn, also would add slots at racetracks and in Chicago's airports.

Quinn hasn't said what he'll do when he gets the gambling bill but he has mocked such a sizable expansion before.

Many government officials, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, see casinos as a way to generate money to plug gaping holes in their municipal budgets.

But gambling revenues have been suffering. Casino admissions were down 4 percent last year in Illinois compared to the year before. As a result, casinos' adjusted gross receipts were down 3.9 percent to about $1.37 billion compared to $1.42 billion in 2009, according to the Illinois Gaming Board's 2010 annual report.

Quinn on Monday called the Des Plaines casino "a very good model."

The deal for the casino included a $125 million upfront fee to be paid to the state and the city of Des Plaines was to redirect $10 million a year in local gaming taxes to the state for 30 years, according to the gaming board. The city also was to share a portion of its net tax revenues with at least 10 impoverished communities in Cook County, according to the board's 2010 annual report.

"I think this is a good thing," Quinn said.

Gambling opponents doubt the new Des Plaines casino or any other will be the revenue generators they've promised.

"When you look behind the bells, the whistles and the turning apples and oranges there really isn't much there," said the Rev. Phil Blackwell, senior minister of the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple.

Anita Bedell, executive director of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems in Springfield, said gambling in Illinois isn't worth the increased social costs.

"During these hard economic times the last thing people need is more opportunities for them to lose their money," she said.

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