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updated: 7/23/2013 5:07 AM

Union: Rivers Casino tax appeals hurt Des Plaines

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  • Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which opened in July 2011, is the state's highest-grossing casino, and it rebuts claims that it's not doing enough for Des Plaines.

       Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which opened in July 2011, is the state's highest-grossing casino, and it rebuts claims that it's not doing enough for Des Plaines.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

A national union representing hospitality industry workers claims Rivers Casino hasn't been a good neighbor to Des Plaines by not paying its fair share of property taxes.

Several members of the group UNITE HERE -- a union with roughly 15,000 members in the Chicago area and more than 250,000 hospitality industry workers in North America -- aired their grievances at a recent Des Plaines City Council meeting.

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Rivers is the highest-grossing casino in the state.

Yet it has received millions of dollars in property tax breaks over the last two years, said Jordan Fein, union spokesman.

"Rivers has generated $339 million more than its closest Illinois competitor, the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin," Fein said.

Fein said the casino's property tax appeals in 2011 and 2012 resulted in Rivers paying $4.1 million less in property taxes, costing the city $550,000 in revenue. He added that the casino developer hasn't delivered on a promise of future expansion that should have included a hotel, restaurants and retail.

Dennis Culloton, spokesman for casino owner Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, said the casino, like any other business or resident in Des Plaines, has the right to appeal its property tax assessment with the Cook County Board of Review.

"Like most businesses and homeowners, they want to pay what is fair and right and not pay more," he said. "Even with the property tax appeals, Rivers still paid $5.6 million in 2012. That's more than the $2.1 million tax bill of the next biggest-paying casino.

"Midwest Gaming simply sought to be treated the same as all Illinois riverboat casinos. We've succeeded in making that case with the assessor's office and the Board of Review."

The casino paid $5.6 million in property taxes for 2012, lowered from an original tax bill of $6.6 million, after its assessed market value was reduced from $104 million to $88 million.

Since opening in July 2011, Rivers has generated $53 million in revenues for Des Plaines in food and beverage taxes, wagering and admission taxes, property taxes, liquor taxes and water bills, Culloton said.

Meanwhile, the casino has donated more than $1 million to area organizations, including $70,000 to Oakton Community College and a $500,000 commitment to Maine West High School over several years, he said.

"Even with our efforts to appeal our assessment, we are still the biggest or among the biggest contributors to Des Plaines' tax base," Culloton said. "We are a major contributor to jobs and other local taxes, and we spend millions on local vendors and charities."

The casino has spent nearly $5 million on local vendors, and its employees volunteer for various causes. "They are proud to be part of the community," Culloton said.

Fein asked city officials to renegotiate the agreement that brought the casino to Des Plaines because the city is getting the raw end of the deal.

Des Plaines agreed to pay $300 million over 30 years to the state to win the 10th and final riverboat gambling license. As part of the deal, the city also must distribute 40 percent of its remaining tax revenue among 10 disadvantaged communities.

Aldermen have referred the matter to committee for further review, but no date has been set for such a discussion.

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