Des Plaines will see less casino revenue than expected

  • Des Plaines officials, as well as a bipartisan think tank, are downgrading the expected revenues the city will receive when the new Rivers Casino opens this summer. Those revenues, once projected as high as $9 million, now are estimated between $2 million and $4 million.

      Des Plaines officials, as well as a bipartisan think tank, are downgrading the expected revenues the city will receive when the new Rivers Casino opens this summer. Those revenues, once projected as high as $9 million, now are estimated between $2 million and $4 million. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/16/2011 6:47 AM

Des Plaines will be getting considerably less revenue from its new casino in its first year of operation than previously estimated.

Originally, city officials anticipated the Des Plaines' share of casino revenues would be $9 million when overall receipts were projected to be around $500 million. Now, it seems the city's share could be only a fraction of that -- between $2 million and $4 million -- based on the latest projections by a bipartisan state commission and the city's own independent research.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Boy, this is really shocking," said Des Plaines 4th Ward Alderman Dick Sayad, who was on the council when the casino was proposed and expected to generate up to $25 million for the city. "I'm surprised, if that's true, that it would be that low, but we have to take what we can get. That money is like it just fell from the sky. Whether it's $2 million or $3 million, it's better than nothing."

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan said the original $9 million estimate was developed before the economy tanked.

"We didn't believe the (original) gross projections as some people did," Moylan said. "I didn't believe where the numbers came from and we started doing our own estimates."

For two months now, city officials have been studying the trend of declining gambling revenues statewide over the past 10 years.

"Elgin Grand Victoria at its height was about $436 million (in receipts) in 2007, and in 2010 their gross revenues were $287 million," Moylan said. "What we found is the size of the smoking ban, and the downturn in the economy has affected all these casinos. We've been lowering the expectations for a long time. The real revenues that we're going to get are not going to be as what some people have anticipated."

It also means city officials have to be more realistic about what they can accomplish with limited casino revenues.

Most city leaders have said they want to use the money for infrastructure improvements and paying down the city's enormous debt.

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"The figures are what they are," Moylan said. "We have to live with what we've got."

The $445 million Des Plaines' Rivers Casino, located on about 20 acres at the corner of Des Plaines River Road and Devon Avenue, will house 1,200 gambling positions, just as the Elgin Grand Victoria and most other casinos.

But because it is new, it is expected to generate more revenue and draw significant amounts of money from casinos in Elgin, Aurora and Joliet.

City officials now project the Rivers Casino will generate about $325 million to $400 million in its first year of operation after opening July 19.

"We're expecting between $3 million and $4 million (in the beginning)," Moylan said.

That's significantly more optimistic than the projections of the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which expects the Rivers Casino to take in nearly $260 million in receipts in its first year. That would mean $12 million in new money for the state and about $15 million for Des Plaines, a portion of which it must forfeit to the state and disburse a percentage of the remainder among area suburbs.

As part of the deal that landed Des Plaines the 10th -- and what is thus far the final casino license -- the city agreed to pay $10 million yearly in local gambling taxes to the state for 30 years. Des Plaines also must distribute 40 percent of the net tax revenues it receives to at least 10, and no more than 25, of the neediest communities in Cook County.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Moylan said if state lawmakers move to expand gambling, then it would be unfair to expect Des Plaines to continue to give back $10 million a year.

"If there's more licenses, then they are changing the rules," he said. "At that time, they said it was the 10th and final. If it's the last, then it's more valuable. If you allow more licenses, then you dilute what you have."

Des Plaines is lobbying to get some relief from the $300 million it owes the state worked into any future gambling expansion legislation.

"We're the only casino that's giving its money away," Moylan said. "We would expect that there would be some additional language in there to protect us."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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