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Cities ponder ownership of gambling license

A new bill passed by state Senate allows Park City Waukegan or North Chicago receive gaming owner’s licences. Park City

A new bill passed by the state Senate allows Park City, Waukegan or North Chicago to receive gaming owner’s licences. Park City had been the designated recipient. | File Photo

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Updated: July 2, 2013 3:33AM

They would be teammates when it comes to revenue if a casino comes to Lake County, but North Chicago, Park City and Waukegan have also been set up as rivals under the new gaming-expansion bill that passed through the Illinois Senate on Wednesday, May 1.

Waukegan mayor-elect Wayne Motley made it clear Thursday, May 2, that he feels his city is in the lead after he met privately with Gov. Pat Quinn in Springfield as the Senate bill was unfolding.

“I spoke to him for an hour and we discussed the bill in detail,” Motley said. “It never hurts to have the governor on your side.”

Motley added that he feels “without question that bill was written for the city of Waukegan,” even though the Illinois Gaming Board would be asked to choose from the roster of three county communities.

The Senate voted 32-20 to approve a package that, as in past versions, proposes new casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford and the south suburbs. But after Park City was the designated local player in bills dating to 2009, the language in the 2013 proposal shuffled the deck.

“The (Illinois Gaming Board) may issue one owners license authorizing the conduct of riverboat gambling located in one of the following municipalities in Lake County: Park City, North Chicago or Waukegan,” reads a recent amendment to SB 1739, which is co-sponsored by Terry Link, D-Waukegan, and Donne E. Trotter, D-Chicago.

If Park City Mayor Steve Pannell felt slighted by the alteration, he didn’t let it show on Thursday, saying he feels a site off Route 41 in his community would be “a perfect spot” for regional gamers.

“I’ve been working on this for four years,” Pannell said Thursday. “I’ve been discouraged a few times, but I’m always optimistic. I still think it’s going to be Park City, and I look forward to it.”

Pannell added that Park City is eyeing the former Bob Rohrman Auto Group property at Old Skokie Road and Washington Street to house a casino, saying “we’ve got all the ordinances in place. We’ve done everything we need to do, so we’re ready to go. It’s up to the gaming board and whatever they decide.”

The Senate proposal states that the gaming board “may give favorable consideration to economically depressed areas of the state” in awarding a license, along with “applicants presenting plans which provide for significant economic development over a large geographic area.”

Past gaming-expansion efforts called for 5 percent of adjusted gross receipts from a Lake County casino to be divided equally between North Chicago, Park City and Waukegan. Under the new version, the revenue split would be 50 percent for Waukegan and 25 percent each to North Chicago and Park City.

North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, who recalled that his city was once in competition with Fox Lake for a gaming license, said that while he’s mindful that some residents “don’t care for gaming,” he would welcome a casino.

“It’s a direction the state has taken,” he said. “Whether it’s in North Chicago, Park City or Waukegan, it will be a benefit because of the revenue it will generate, and we welcome that benefit.”

Whoever wins the title of host community would benefit from not only its share of gaming revenue but from such things as permit fees during construction and food and beverage taxes from operation. Motley said Waukegan “desperately needs to hire more police officers” and redevelop its infrastructure with casino dollars, and he added that his preferred site would be 30-plus vacant acres on the south side of Fountain Square of Waukegan.

“Waukegan is shovel-ready. We could start construction out there tomorrow — North Chicago can’t, Park City can’t,” said Motley, reversing statements during the campaign season that a casino should be built on the lakefront. “(Fountain Square) is the best site because it’s between two major roadways, Route 41 and the tollway, and it’s just the most logical place.”

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