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Article updated: 1/24/2012 5:40 AM

Elgin casino wants to up its game against Rivers

Grand Victoria may team up with city for new entertainment venue

By Tara García Mathewson

Owners of Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino, which until last year was the hottest casino in Illinois, are teaming up with the city of Elgin to explore whether to build a multipurpose entertainment facility that could help them better compete with the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said partnering with Grand Victoria could solve the problems of both organizations and mean an end to annual subsidies for the Hemmens Cultural Center, Elgin's downtown performing arts venue.

Grand Victoria has agreed to fund the entire cost of the study, estimated at $45,000 plus travel and other expenses, to California-based Hospitality and Gaming Solutions. The city will have to enter into an agreement with the company and then accept reimbursement from the casino.

Casino officials could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

City council members last discussed the potential for a new venue to replace Hemmens in 2006. But action stopped shortly after consultants presented the results of a $100,000 study. Economics Research Associates determined the city could support building a 2,000-seat facility, but council members held back from spending $125 million on the new construction.

"We're interested in doing this with them because the Hemmens has reached a point of functional obsolescence," Kozal said.

The 1,200-seat theater that opened in 1969 has aging heating and air conditioning equipment, there aren't bathrooms on the first floor, its acoustics are lacking and there are not enough aisles, Kozal said. A new building could host the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, concerts, festivals and city events.

And city officials pointed out in 2006 that a 2,000-seat theater could attract a whole new range of acts that a 1,200-seater can't.

Rivers Casino has no concert hall of its own, even though the Allstate Arena is a cab ride away.

But Rivers is, of course, new and much closer to gamblers in Chicago than Elgin is. Since its opening last July, Rivers has supplanted Grand Victoria as the state's top performer. Grand Victoria had held that title consistently since it opened in 1994.

Rivers took in about $33 million in December; Grand Victoria took in almost $19 million. That's 41 percent less than Grand Victoria's best year -- 2007 -- a year before the state's indoor smoking ban took effect.

The proposed study would gauge the demand for expansion of the casino property -- not gambling positions -- with the new facility and include a regional and national market analysis of similar venues in other cities.

Council members will decide about partnering with Grand Victoria on the study at their committee of the whole meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 150 Dexter Court.

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