Gaming regulators find selection more appealing than two others

Illinois gambling regulators have awarded the village of Des Plaines and Midwest Gaming & Entertainment LLC the state’s only unused casino license, essentially because the bid was viewed as not raising the ethical concerns of the two other contenders.

Des Plaines beat out bids from Chicago suburbs Rosemont and Waukegan on a 3-1 vote by the five-member Illinois Gaming Board, with panel member Eugene Winkler abstaining because he didn’t believe any of the three finalists were worthy.

Although Midwest Gaming said it would build the casino near the intersection of Devon Avenue and River Road just outside the Chicago city limits, the company faces as least six more months of vetting before it can begin, pushing the casino’s opening date to late 2010.

Ethical issues, compounded by the recent corruption allegations against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who appointed all of the board’s five members, cast a pall over the selection process. Panelist said they couldn’t ignore the past problems of contender Rosemont, which twice was in line to get the casino license, only to lose it due to allegations of the late Mayor Donald E. Stephen’s relationship with mob figures. And Waukegan lost out because investors in its casino cartel included several prominent members of Blagojevich’s political fundraising apparatus.

In winning the license, Midwest Gaming will pay its $125 million bid once the casino opens, and an additional $300 million over the 30 years it will hold the license. Its bid was less than half the $435 million Trilliant Gaming bid for a license to build a casino in Rosemont.

Like Rosemont, Des Plaines abuts Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which will enable the casino to attract customers with time to fill between flights.

The selection did not please the officials from the outer suburban cities of Elgin and Aurora, who see the Des Plaines casino siphoning off business from their riverboat casinos (especially from conventioneers and trade show attendees at the downtown McCormick Place), once travelers from inside Chicago have a closer venue.