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updated: 7/18/2011 9:08 AM

Rivers Casino VIP party draws thousands

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  • Actor Jim Belushi attends the VIP party at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines to gamble and sing with his band in the Cube Room on Sunday.

       Actor Jim Belushi attends the VIP party at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines to gamble and sing with his band in the Cube Room on Sunday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Several thousand VIPs flooded the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines Sunday night at an exclusive party ahead of today's public opening.

From politicians to big and small-time TV celebrities, to those who helped make the $445 million casino a reality, the awe and excitement was evident on the sea of smiling faces.

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On Friday night, roughly 3,500 Des Plaines residents and their guests got their own sneak preview of the casino at an invitation-only party.

The action was nonstop as visitors gambled at the more than 1,050 slot machines and 48 table games, downed specialty cocktails, dined heartily at the casino's five eateries serving free food, and rocked to the rhythmic blues of Jim Belushi & the Sacred Hearts band.

"I think it's great," said Neil Kenig of Lincolnshire, who served as the traffic and parking consultant for the project. "My first impression, more upscale."

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan got caught up in the gambling action himself playing craps and losing heartily.

"They spared no cost on building this facility," said Moylan in between a barrage of congratulatory handshakes. "Everybody's having a great time this evening."

Perhaps the person having the most fun was Rivers Casino owner and Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm.

"We made it," said the real estate mogul who owns four other casinos across the country. "Thanks to the great cooperation from the city. We spent 10 years trying to put this together. I think we'll do fine and it'll be great for Des Plaines."

Des Plaines' neighbors also are eager to get a slice of the action.

"A strong neighbor is better for us," said Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson. "As people come to the casino, they may stop and fill up gas, stop to eat in town. Visibility is the best thing for a community. Obviously, this is another asset for the region."

Rivers Casino, situated on about 20 acres off Des Plaines River Road between Touhy and Devon avenues, opens to the general public at 11 a.m.

For Des Plaines, it's a dream more than a decade in the making and involved the efforts of many former and current aldermen and mayors to bring the casino to town, former Des Plaines mayor Tony Arredia said.

"It's just what we thought it would be," Arredia said. "It's been kinda exciting. The aldermen should get a lot of credit. They were the ones that actually sat through all the meetings."

Arredia hopes the casino will be an economic boon for Des Plaines as it has been for Aurora after Hollywood Casino arrived there.

"The first year ought to be a good year," Arredia said. "I think the real test will be how do we look in the third and fourth year."

Former Des Plaines 4th Ward alderwoman Jean Higgason, who was on the city council when Des Plaines was awarded the casino license, couldn't contain her excitement.

"It's so elegant," Higgason gushed. "It's different from any other casino. We couldn't have asked for better. You can come in and listen to music. You can sit at the bar and people watch. It's a lovely atmosphere. I never thought the day would come."

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who has long sought to get a casino in Lake County, tried his hand Sunday at Spin Poker on a Rivers Casino slot machine.

"I think this is great for the state," Link said. "Obviously, this is a fabulous location. The state obviously needs the money. I hope this is successful."

Link admitted he's not much of a gambler, but is betting on Governor Pat Quinn signing gambling expansion legislation that would allow five new casinos statewide, including one in Chicago, Park City, and Rockford, as well as slots at racetracks.

Link said in the roughly 15 years the 10th casino license has been in limbo before it was awarded to Des Plaines in December 2008, the state has lost well over $1 billion in revenue.

"I feel that now is the time that we have to start generating money to get revenue back, so I'm excited for (Des Plaines)," Link said. "I hope the new bill is signed and in two years we have grand openings in Park City, Rockford and the other three locations."

Quinn, who was invited but was absent from Sunday's festivities, has been noncommittal about his stance on the legislation.

Link said lawmakers may have to tweak the legislation but he believes Quinn eventually will sign it.

If the legislation is approved, Bluhm said he hopes to be able to add slots to his casino, which would go up from 1,200 to 2,000, and get a break on the taxes.

"We're the nicest casino, no matter whether they pass the law," he said.

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