Field of dreams? State regulators approve Danville casino, leaving only Chicago still pining for action

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Illinois regulators on Thursday gave preliminary approval for a new casino to open in downstate Danville, dealing out one of the final cards of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 2019 gambling expansion. 

The Illinois Gaming Board’s initial green light to the Golden Nugget Danville leaves only one component of Pritzker’s high-stakes legislation remaining: approval of the long-coveted Chicago casino. 

The board’s unanimous decision allows a group led by New York-based Wilmot Gaming to break ground in Danville, about 140 miles south of Chicago. The developer’s plan promises to bring a 41,500-square-foot gaming floor with 500 slot machines to the city of about 31,000 that’s perhaps best known as the childhood hometown of actors Dick Van Dyke and Gene Hackman.

It’s the 15th casino approved in Illinois since the state legalized casino gambling in 1990, and the fifth since Pritzker signed the 2019 law that authorized six new casinos, introduced legal sports betting and allowed for even more slot machines outside casinos. 

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, only one of those new casinos — the Hard Rock in Rockford — has started taking bets. Others have been approved in Waukegan, Williamson County in southern Illinois, and at a site on the border of south suburban Homewood and East Hazel Crest. 

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Artist’s rendering of the then proposed Hard Rock Casino Rockford.

Provided by Res Publica Group

Two horse racing tracks have also been cleared to become “racinos” with slots and table games, but haven’t yet launched their table games. 

Pritzker is betting on the expanded gambling options and the resulting tax revenue to help fund his signature $45 billion capital infrastructure improvement plan. That’s despite the fact casino revenues have been shrinking for years in Illinois, even before the pandemic hit. 

But the biggest jackpot of the gambling expansion — the Chicago casino — has yet to be won.

The city’s gambling timeline was pushed back behind those of the other applicants because a state-hired consultant determined tax rates on the Chicago casino were too high for anyone to make a profit. That forced Mayor Lori Lightfoot to go back to Springfield in 2020 to hammer out a deal lowering the burden. 

Lightfoot is now mulling five proposals to run the gambling mecca. She’s expected to pick a finalist this spring to advance to the Gaming Board. 



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