Danville and Its Dream By Ken Adams, CDC Gaming Reports October 14, 2019 at 5:30 pm The expansion of casino gaming in Illinois is progressing at a measured pace. Chicago is still waiting for new legislation that reduces the taxes and fees for a casino in the city. But, there are bidders for the environs, including the Ho-Chunk Nation in Lynwood Village, Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Homewood and five separate entities pitching the city of Waukegan that lies 40 miles north of Chicago. Rockford 90 miles west of Chicago appears to be settling on Hard Rock as their preferred casino developer and operator, although two other potential bidders may submit a proposal to the Illinois Gaming Board. Farther afield, Danville is also courting a casino development. The Danville City Council got three bids and selected a newly formed company called Haven Gaming LLC as the best for its needs. The mayor of Danville said the city council does not want a brand name casino company. The city council wants a uniquely Danville casino-resort that would establish the city as a destination resort. Haven describes the proposed project as not just a casino, but a mix of ten businesses operating under one roof, a “new evolution of gaming and a multi-level experience.” Haven proposes a $230 million, three-phase project that will eventually have a hotel, full-service spa, shopping, multiple restaurants, lazy river, convention center, live entertainment venue and 4,000 parking spaces. Phase one of the project is estimated at $118 million. The casino will have 1250 slot machines, 40 table games and sports betting. Haven says the potential market area includes 2.4 million people. The firm is targeting gamblers from Indianapolis, Indiana because there are no table games there. That is true, but only for the next three months; after that the two racinos in the area will have table games. Danville is 140 miles from Chicago and 90 miles from Indianapolis. It has 30,000 residents and 14,500 households with a medium income of $36,400; Wikipedia listed per capita income as $16, 476. Those are not numbers to excite potential developers, and they do not support projects like those being proposed in locations closer to Chicago. If a casino is built, Danville will receive 4 percent of EBIDTA and a $3 million up front payment, plus four annual payments of $50k for community organizations. Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. says the $3 million will be used to expand the Boys and Girls Club, update municipal buildings and develop the downtown riverfront. Danville expects an employment boost; the Haven proposal would generate 400 construction jobs and 1000 full time positions. Danville has lobbied for a casino for thirty years. It once had a thriving coal mining industry and associated factories. But that has been gone since the 1940s. Today, Danville has fewer people now than any time in the last hundred years. Danville is pinning its hopes on a casino. Mayor Williams thinks the casino revenue will be incredible. “It will help us eliminate our debt, but also help us tackle the huge fire and police pensions and deficits that we have,” he said. In part, he is basing his predictions on the presentation by Haven. Haven is promising to deliver “WOW!” The promise does not stop there, one of the partners in Haven said, “We think that this can be one of the most successful casinos not only in Illinois but all of the Midwest.” Haven is enthusiastic and aggressive with its predictions due in part to the background and experience of its team. CEO Bill Bembenek comes from Pala Casino Spa and Resort in California; he was the Pala CEO from 2008 until January 2019. Pala is located near San Diego and up until recently was very successful. The Haven proposal is said to resemble the Pala casino. Certainly, in Bembenek’s mind, the expected success will resemble his early years in southern California. But Danville is not San Diego and it is too far from any major population center to ever be “one of the most successful casinos” in Illinois or the Midwest. The dream of being a destination and solving all of the city’s financial problems is what Danville bought. It is an unrealistic dream. Recently, Tilman Fertitta said that Atlantic City was not a nine-casino town and he wondered why nobody realized that fact. The answer to that question lies in the problems of Danville and its dreams of financial success. When people want something badly enough, they sometimes fail to look objectively at the facts. The mayor knows where Chicago and Indianapolis are, he knows how many people live in his town and how much money they make. Still, carried away by another person’s enthusiasm he bought into the dream. Haven Gaming LLC may build a successful casino in Danville, Illinois. It might solve Danville’s financial problems and provide jobs. But it will not be the most successful in the state or the region. The statistics from the Illinois Gaming Commission paint a very clear picture of the casino landscape in the Land of Lincoln, a Chicago area casino does best. That simple fact is a universal truth in gaming. The closer a casino is to major population center the more money it makes and conversely the farther away it is, the more it struggles.