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DES PLAINES, IL-A location near O’Hare International Airport, a strong work force and local support are the makings of a winning hand for a casino in this city two Metra stops northwest of Chicago, says would-be developer Neil Bluhm. “We believe a Des Plaines casino will be the most successful casino in Illinois,” the long-time Chicago developer told city aldermen, as well as proponents and opponents, Tuesday night.

While Joliet sees the most casino dollars by virtue of having two gambling boats, the Grand Victoria casino in Elgin currently holds the distinction as the most profitable, generating a $132-million windfall to the city since 1994, including $24 million in 2001, according to Bluhm.

“The anti-gaming people who predicted doom and gloom for other Illinois cities were dead wrong,” says Bluhm, who predicts a $25-million payoff for Des Plaines if his Midwest Gaming and Entertainment wins the license from the Illinois Gaming Board.

The city council was considering whether to become a host community in hopes of landing the state’s 10th and only available license, relinquished by Emerald Casino after its failed attempt to relocate from East Dubuque, IL to neighboring Rosemont amid allegations of false statements in the application as well as organized crime connections.

The Illinois Gaming Board is expected to decide next month where to locate the 10th casino, and Des Plaines is competing not only with Rosemont, but south suburban Calumet City, southwest suburban Summit and far north suburban Waukegan, says City Attorney David Wiltse. Meanwhile, a 1999 revenue sharing agreement with Calumet City apparently no longer applies to Des Plaines, Wiltse adds, recommending the city council rescind its previous support.

Des Plaines voters defeated a casino referendum in 1994, opting out of a game that saw the river cities of Aurora, Elgin and Joliet prosper. While proponents and opponents debated moral issues and effects of gambling on a community, the lure of revenue seemed to overshadow those arguments.

“Des Plaines has strengths that should lead to considerable benefits to the community,” Bluhm says. “The location is as good as Rosemont and greater than any other location in the state.”

Although Bluhm has not settled on a site, a building at 3000 S. River Rd. formerly occupied by Xerox Corp. could be the likely spot for his $350-million casino. The property, just two blocks north of the boundary between Des Plaines and Rosemont, most recently sold for $7.9 million in January. Also in the mix, though, is a site at the northeast corner of Higgins and Mannheim roads, just northeast of the airport. A hotel and restaurant are there now.

“The sites are not next to residential areas,” Bluhm says. “A casino project has the same impact on a city as a shopping mall or office complex,” he adds, claiming traffic would be “minimal” compared to those other potential uses.

Bluhm’s JMB Realty has developed shopping centers—Old Orchard in north suburban Skokie as well as Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue—as well as the upscale Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton Hotels on the Magnificent Mile. Most recently, however, he and Greg Carlin have been involved in the $600-million Casino Niagara in Ontario.

“I give you my personal commitment this will be a first-class facility, and that we’ll be good neighbors,” Bluhm told aldermen.

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