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JOLIET, IL-Argosy Gaming Co. is hoping to launch a 65,000-sf barge, which will replace two riverboats at its Empress Casino, by April. The Illinois Gaming Board approved the renovation project, part of a $120-million to $145-million program involving Argosy’s properties here and in Kansas City.

Argosy Gaming chief executive officer James B. Perry points to the success of competing barges operated in Aurora and Joliet as reasons for optimism that his company’s projects “will deliver meaningful shareholder value,” he tells analysts during a conference call.

“Customers in the Chicago market and elsewhere have indicated a clear preference for barge-based casinos,” Perry says.

The $40-million Empress barge will have 50,000 sf of gambling space and 15,000 sf for banquets and a players lounge. Gambling on the barge will be conducted on two levels, rather than five on the riverboats, according to the company.

Meanwhile, Perry expressed surprise by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s recent turn-about on casino gambling in the city. “Fascinating comments from a guy who in three or four months, went from ‘I don’t want a casino in Chicago’ to ‘I want the biggest casino in the Midwest.’ It speaks to the issue about how economic conditions have changed,” Perry says.

However, Perry has reservations competing against a city-owned casino, and one that would become reality only after the creation of an 11th license by the state legislature. That issue is likely to be raised in Springfield after next month’s elections, when a new governor will be chosen, Perry notes.

Perry adds his concerns about a city-owned casino in Empress’ market could be eased by the state’s other 10 casinos—the relocation of the 10th license is being considered by the gaming board—receiving more gaming positions.

The Kansas City barge is expected to open in late 2003.

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