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updated: 7/23/2012 7:07 AM

Rivers Casino enjoys a year at the top

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  • Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has been the highest grossing casino in the state since it opened last July. City officials fear that could be in jeopardy, however, if the state moves forward with a proposed gambling expansion.

       Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has been the highest grossing casino in the state since it opened last July. City officials fear that could be in jeopardy, however, if the state moves forward with a proposed gambling expansion.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts performed at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines Wednesday to mark the casino's anniversary.

       Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts performed at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines Wednesday to mark the casino's anniversary.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts performed at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines Wednesday to mark the casino's anniversary.

       Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts performed at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines Wednesday to mark the casino's anniversary.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

After a year in business, the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is still at the top of its game.

Rivers remains the highest grossing casino in Illinois, exceeding the expectations of both its management and Des Plaines city leaders.

The state's 10th, and what was expected to be final, casino collected $393 million in adjusted gross receipts during its first full year of operation.

In comparison, the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin generated roughly $227 million, while Hollywood Casino in Aurora grossed nearly $160 million.

When casinos open, there's typically a brief spike in revenue the first couple of months that peters out over time, said Bill Keena, casino general manager.

"The first year was a very big success," Keena said. "The number of patrons coming here has exceeded what we thought we were going to do."

Rivers Casino drew 3.8 million visitors in its first 12 months of operation -- averaging 320,000 visitors monthly -- compared to the Grand Victoria's 1.7 million visitors and Hollywood Casino's 1.4 million for the same period.

While Rivers hurt some Illinois casinos, it also has drawn customers away from gambling venues in Indiana, adding to Illinois' overall gambling take, Keena said.

When Rivers opened, just 42 percent of gambling revenue in the region was going to Illinois casinos. Now, 51 percent of that revenue stays in state, Keena said.

"We've got a bigger market share than the Indiana properties," he said. "Overall, we have grown the market."

Rivers has paid $129 million in gambling taxes to the state.

The casino generated $24 million for Des Plaines in wagering and admissions taxes between July 2011 and June 2012, Finance Director Dorothy Wisniewski said. That doesn't include money raised by food and beverage taxes and property taxes.

As part of the deal that landed Des Plaines the 10th license, the city must pay the state $10 million a year for 30 years, and share 40 percent of remaining revenue with 10 disadvantaged communities.

In June, the city made its payouts for 2011. Of the $10.8 million the city got for the period between July and Dec. 31, 2011, Des Plaines gave the state $4.7 million and distributed $2.5 million in checks to the 10 communities.

That leaves Des Plaines with $3.7 million, which will be used in 2013 to rebuild infrastructure, relieve flooding and reduce the city's $62.5 million debt load.

The casino also has boosted the local economy by adding 1,400 full-time jobs -- 91 percent held by Illinois residents -- as well as supporting local vendors and donating roughly $1.4 million to charitable organizations statewide, Keena said.

"The relationships we've had with the Des Plaines city and all of the vendors and local businesses that have supported us has been outstanding," Keena said.

But not every impact of the casino has been good for Des Plaines. From Aug. 1, 2011 through June 30, Des Plaines responded to 1,467 police and 232 fire-related calls at the casino.

The casino is in the process of getting state approval to provide its own emergency medical services, which would reduce the burden on the city's fire and police departments.

Four casino emergency medical technicians will handle first aid and other basic treatments that don't require transportation to a hospital, as well as enter medical reports and charts into a computer and sign patient releases.

The certification process for EMTs is expected to take a couple of months, Keena said.

"When you have 3.8 million people come through here, you're going to have some issues," Keena said. "We want to be as much self-sufficient as we can."

Still, he said, "The benefit the city is getting far outweighs the extra number of calls they are having to (handle)."

Rivers Casino's tremendous initial success could be in jeopardy, it fears, with the potential for new casinos and slots at racetracks.

State lawmakers have approved legislation to create new casinos in Lake County, Chicago and the south suburbs and also to put up to 1,200 slots each at Arlington Park racetrack in Arlington Heights and at Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero.

Gov. Pat Quinn has signaled he won't sign the package into law, leaving lawmakers to either override him in November, accept the changes he suggests or do nothing and let the plan die, as it has nearly every year for more than a decade.

Des Plaines city leaders have been urging Quinn to veto the proposal.

"We agree that there could be some (gambling) expansion, but we don't like the current bill," Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan said.

"We realize that we're not going to be able to stop Chicago in the long run," he added. "We'd rather work with them and hopefully get a better deal for Des Plaines."

The proposed legislation offers some relief for Des Plaines by reducing the amount it owes the state by $4 million yearly -- a concession the city's lobbyists negotiated.

The proposed legislation also allows for an additional 400 gambling positions at Rivers Casino -- there are 1,200 now. Des Plaines is lobbying for a larger increase of up to 2,000 gambling positions.

Moylan objects to slots at horse tracks, predicting the tracks won't be satisfied for long with just slots and soon will be asking for table games.

He said the state's 10 casinos would rather give the racetracks more money from their combined, yearly gambling revenues than give them slots. Right now, the racetracks get about $35 million yearly from statewide gambling revenues, he said.

"We feel that the existing casinos would get more money by giving the tracks a subsidy instead of allowing slot machines," Moylan said. "It's a substantial amount of money."

Keena wouldn't comment on the proposed gambling expansion except to say that any additional gambling positions at Rivers would mean the casino would have to be built out to make room for them.

For now, casino and city officials are reveling in their mutually lucrative partnership.

"It's a tourist attraction, which brings more people to town," Moylan said. "We're in this game together."

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