Rivers Casino expansion plan includes events ballroom, more

Rivers Casino's stalled but long-anticipated expansion plans in Des Plaines were unveiled Wednesday, calling for a two-story addition that will house a poker room, more slots, an events ballroom and new restaurant.

The $87 million, 78,000-square-foot addition is proposed to be built between the existing casino building and recently-enlarged parking garage on the north side of the property at 3000 S. River Road.

The plans are still subject to regulatory approval by the Illinois Gaming Board and zoning approval from the Des Plaines city council.

The city's planning and zoning board could begin reviewing blueprints as early as next week.

If approved, the new building would allow the casino to add about 725 gambling positions, for a total of 2,000 casino-wide. Rivers, the state's most lucrative casino, got permission for the extra slots and table games under a massive gambling expansion package approved by Springfield lawmakers in 2019.

"With this proposed expansion, we will be able to offer our guests more of the entertainment and dining options they enjoy, additional gaming opportunities and a long-desired poker room," said CEO Greg Carlin, co-founder of Rush Street Gaming, which operates Rivers in conjunction with Churchill Downs Inc. "We have always offered a first-class experience for our guests. As the economy reopens, we're excited to raise the bar and provide them with an even better experience."

According to the casino's plans, the first floor of the new building will house an expanded gambling floor for slots and table games, and the new restaurant. The second floor will feature a 24-table poker room; a 10,000-square-foot ballroom for private events and live entertainment; and a slot machine area.

The expansion was postponed last spring at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even at the time, the casino's corporate brass hinted the plans could come back, once they got a better gauge on how the pandemic could affect the economy.

"We expect to resume those (expansion plans)," Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said during an April 2020 quarterly earnings call with investors. "We expect to pick 'em back up. We expect a return to a growth trajectory for this company that is similar to what we've done over the last number of years.

"But we have to do so prudently. We don't have a crystal ball either and COVID-19 is something that nobody's seen in several generations," Carstanjen said.

Having a maximum of 2,000 gambling positions will mark another first for Rivers in Illinois, which opened the state's first brick-and-mortar sportsbook in March 2020, just days before the state-ordered shutdown due to COVID-19. Months later, Rivers became the first gambling house to offer sports betting online and with a mobile app.

The 2019 state gambling expansion also allowed Rivers to formally become the first Illinois casino to host land-based gambling, allowing the casino to add more than 100 slot machines in spaces not directly above the water tank it was built on.

The latest expansion plan initially calls for 260 more table game positions and 439 slot game positions. The property would be able to install another 26 positions in the future, officials said.

Pending approval, construction of the addition could begin in the spring and be complete by spring 2022.

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Rivers Casino officials on Wednesday outlined plans for an $87 million, 78,000-square-foot addition to the Des Plaines facility. The proposal includes a poker room, more slots, an events ballroom and new restaurant. Courtesy of Rivers Casino Des Plaines
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