Hollywood Casino Aurora owners present plan to move out of downtown, rebuild by I-88

The owners of Hollywood Casino Aurora want to close their facility downtown and rebuild it on a site closer to Interstate 88, they announced Monday.

The new location would cost about $360 million and include a casino with about 900 slot machines, 50 live table games and a sportsbook, officials at Penn Entertainment said. The current casino has more than 1,000 slots and 21 table games.

But the new casino complex would also have a 200-room hotel with about 10,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

"Our plan for Aurora is to construct a modern, best-in-class casino and hotel in an ideal location off I-88 that will allow us to serve the millions of visitors to the adjacent Simon Premium Outlet Mall," said Jay Snowden, CEO and president of Penn Entertainment, referring to the Chicago Premium Outlets mall.

The location would also have new bars, restaurants and a spa, according to the news release from the Pennsylvania-based company that owns 43 casinos and racetracks in the U.S. and Canada.

Penn is planning a similar shift with Hollywood Casino Joliet, in which its riverside casino outside the suburb would be closed and a new facility built within the new Rock Run Crossings development by the interchange of interstates 80 and 55.

Aurora city spokesman Clayton Muhammed said the plan calls for the new casino complex to be built on city-owned land near Farnsworth Avenue and Bilter Road next to Chicago Premium Outlets. The plan calls for the city to give over the land, which used to host two hotels the city purchased for around $7 million in 2018 and later razed, and pay for up to $50 million of the project by issuing new bonds.

"The proposal from Penn represents one of the most significant developments in the history of Aurora," Muhammed said.

Muhammed said details on the plan will be presented to the public at a city council finance committee meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday. If approved, construction would begin in late 2023, Penn Entertainment said.

Muhammed said the city has been in talks with casino officials about moving from downtown for quite some time.

"Since the change in law to permit land-side casino relocation in Illinois, we have been exploring the viability of relocating our aging riverboats in Aurora and Joliet," Snowden said in his statement. He credited "Mayor Richard Irvin and his staff" for their support.

In 2020, Aurora Alderman Emmanuel Llamas said people living in neighborhoods nearby already opposed the idea of moving Hollywood Casino near Farnsworth Avenue.

Hollywood Casino Aurora is the fourth-highest gambling income generator among the state's 11 casinos so far this year, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, with $75 million in gross receipts through September. Of that, nearly $12 million goes to the state and nearly $4.4 million to Aurora.

That's higher than the $60 million in the same period last year, with about $3.5 million going to Aurora, though the pandemic was a factor.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is by far the leading income generator, with nearly $390 million through September this year. The Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin is second, with $115 million, and Harrah's Joliet is fourth with $101 million. Hollywood Joliet is fifth with nearly $66 million.

"We are delighted to announce these exciting new growth projects, which we expect will generate strong free cash flow returns and create long-term value for our shareholders," Snowden said about the Aurora and Joliet as well as projects in Ohio and Nevada. He also touted the creation of "hundreds of new full-time jobs" in Aurora and Joliet.

Penn Entertainment opposed gambling expansion passed by the state legislature in 2019, allowing for six new casinos in Waukegan, Rockford, Danville, the South suburbs, Williamson County and Chicago.

"(We) can't comment on specifics in terms of potential impacts other than to express our displeasure with the most massive gaming expansion package we've ever seen in a state that is already saturated from a gaming standpoint," Eric Schippers, senior vice president for public affairs, said at the time.

But the legislation also allowed existing casinos to increase its positions to 2,000 from 1,200. Rivers did; Hollywood Casino Aurora hasn't.

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