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updated: 7/18/2011 6:01 AM

Des Plaines casino not a boon for everyone

Grand Victoria, Arlington track could lose business

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  • Arlington Park, home of "The Arlington Million," a nationally televised horse race, says that casino gambling is hurting the horse racing industry, and Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is likely to take another bite out of its revenue.

       Arlington Park, home of "The Arlington Million," a nationally televised horse race, says that casino gambling is hurting the horse racing industry, and Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is likely to take another bite out of its revenue.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer August 2006

  • Revenues from the Grand Victoria Casino are the major engine of infrastructure improvements and capital purchases in Elgin. City officials say they will have to seek alternative revenue sources if the Rivers Casino has a significant impact on the Grand Victoria's bottom line.

       Revenues from the Grand Victoria Casino are the major engine of infrastructure improvements and capital purchases in Elgin. City officials say they will have to seek alternative revenue sources if the Rivers Casino has a significant impact on the Grand Victoria's bottom line.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Hollywood Casino in Aurora is expecting attendance to drop with Monday's opening of the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. To fight that, Hollywood officials say they will emphasize customer service.

       Hollywood Casino in Aurora is expecting attendance to drop with Monday's opening of the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. To fight that, Hollywood officials say they will emphasize customer service.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Hundreds of VIPs -- including politicians, investors and actor Jim Belushi -- celebrated the opening of the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines over the weekend.

But not everyone in the suburbs was celebrating.

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While the new casino is expected to generate millions of dollars for Des Plaines, other towns are expecting to lose out as the Rivers Casino draws patrons and gambling revenues from their attractions.

Officials and business owners in Elgin, home of the Grand Victoria Casino; Aurora, location of the Hollywood Casino; and Arlington Heights, where the Arlington Park racetrack is located; all expressed concerns about the effect the Rivers Casino will have on their bottom lines.

In Elgin, taxes from the Grand Victoria Casino are the major source of revenue for infrastructure projects and capital purchases, according to the city.

City staffers believe revenues from the casino will drop from almost $16.5 million to $10.5 million in the first full year the Rivers Casino will be in operation. That difference, Elgin officials said, will have a tangible impact on the city's infrastructure and economic development efforts.

"It will hinder us from completing the amount of infrastructure we would like to," said Colleen Lavery, Elgin's chief financial officer. "We won't be able to do as many roads. We're going to have to look at scaling back some of our projects."

Representatives from the Grand Victoria Casino declined to comment.

The Hollywood Casino in Aurora expects attendance to fall, citing estimates that existing suburban casinos could see their clientele drop by 5 to 30 percent. To fight that, Hollywood's locations in Aurora and Joliet will continue to emphasize customer service, a spokesman said. Officials with the casino are also hoping Rivers Casino will reignite interest in gambling in the suburbs.

"We've built a solid base of customers," said Doug Lima, vice president of marketing for Hollywood. "We hope they'll continue their regular trips to us."

Existing suburban casinos are in the same boat as Arlington Park, which has suffered as the expansion of gambling over the past 20 years has gradually chipped away at the racetrack's revenue.

"Our industry has been in decline ever since," said Tony Petrillo, general manager of Arlington Park.

With Rivers Casino opening today, he added, "I think it's highly likely that the trend will continue, as demonstrated by other riverboats' impact."

To stem the losses, Arlington Park is aggressively partnering with Chicago sports franchises and suburban businesses to offer more special events and promotions for patrons.

There is a glimmer of hope for the racing industry in the form of legislation that would allow slot machines at racetracks. Supporters say similar measures have helped revitalize horse racing in other states. But Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed reservations about signing the bill, which has passed the General Assembly.

"That translates to higher purses" for race winners, said Mickey Ezzo, a spokesman for the Illinois Racing Board, which regulates the industry. "Higher purses directly translates to higher-quality racing. That's what excites fans. We're optimistic that what happens in other states will happen in Illinois."

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