DANVILLE — With the deadline to submit casino-development plans to the Illinois Gaming Board quickly approaching, city officials say they are poised and ready to send a request for proposals to casino operators all over the country early Wednesday.
“This process for any type of project would normally take six to 12 months, so this is really condensed,” said Vicki Haugen, CEO and president of Vermilion Advantage.
Senate Bill 690, signed into law Friday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, creates licenses for six new land-based casinos across Illinois, including a license for Danville, and also legalizes sports wagering and expands video gambling in the state. It’s all part of an effort to generate revenue for a $45 billion Rebuild Illinois Capital plan that will pay for fixing roads, bridges, railways, universities, state facilities and other infrastructure.
Since the state Legislature approved an expansion of gambling last month, Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. and Haugen have been working behind the scenes to get ready, knowing that the 120-day deadline would begin with the governor’s signature.
“For the Danville license, it’s not a bad thing. We want to move quickly anyway, because of Terre Haute,” Haugen said, referring to plans in Indiana for a possible casino roughly an hour drive southeast of Danville.
But odds are it won't be a Caesars-sized facility, and Terre Haute, Ind., might be them to the punch.
In preparation, Williams and Haugen secured the services of developer Dave Cocagne, whose Chicago-based business Vermilion Development, which started in Danville, is involved in major developments in the Windy City and downstate, including projects on the University of Illinois campus.
Haugen said Cocagne knows this kind of development too, has contacts in the casino industry and can guide the city through this quick three-month process.
“Because of that short window, the learning curve is way too short,” Haugen said. “This can’t be a novice’s game. You need someone who knows what they are doing.”
With Cocagne’s guidance, Williams and Haugen have already assembled the city’s request for proposals, which they are calling a “solicitation of interest,” that will go out Wednesday with a three-week deadline for casino developers to submit applications.
At tonight’s Danville City Council meeting, Cocagne and Haugen will make a presentation about the solicitation, which basically spells out what Danville wants in an initial application from developers.
The presentation will include possible locations for a Danville casino, Haugen said, explaining that with such a short timeline for pulling together a proposal, a shovel-ready site that’s already zoned properly, for example, is imperative.
That shortens the list of possible sites, especially when access to and visibility from Interstate 74 will be important for the casino, she said.
“That’s always been important, but now with Terre Haute in the mix, it’s even more important,” she said.
Williams has assembled a steering committee of city officials and local business representatives — who will be announced at tonight’s meeting — that will help choose a developer.
Once a developer is chosen, it will work with the city on a final casino development plan, which must be submitted to the Illinois Gaming Board for approval by the end of October.
“They will just help us through the whole procurement process,” Williams said of the steering committee, adding that it’s currently in the process of creating an evaluation matrix to help assess proposals from developers.
Haugen said a key aspect in choosing a developer is determining what it can offer in addition to a casino, explaining that it’s important that the development be an entertainment venue that incorporates more than just gambling. She said it would be good to see a plan that supports and parallels the strengths of the community, like the David S. Palmer Arena or the Fischer Theatre, which is currently being restored.
Based on calls and e-mails that Haugen and Williams have already received, Haugen said she believes there will be multiple parties interested in a Danville casino license, although she anticipates the big players, like Harrah’s, will be focusing on the Chicago license.
“But there are lots of regional operators, and so we feel that’s probably the type of operator who will be interested in the smaller communities,” she said.
Williams said with the steering committee and a plan for choosing a developer both in place, he feels comfortable with where they are as this whole process is beginning.
“It’s exciting,” he said.