Pulse: 20 years of disagreement over casino revenue
June 17, 2012 10:58PM
Wayne Smith, general manager, (left) applauds while speaking to employees during a luncheon celebrating 20 years in business and to recognize around 40 employees who were present those 20 years at Hollywood Casino Thursday, June 14, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 19, 2012 6:06AM
The 20th anniversary this week of the Empress Casino (now Hollywood Joliet) launch in Joliet has churned up an old controversy. Attorney Mike Hansen, who handled legal work for the Empress, said he bristles every time he hears someone say Will County was aced out of a cut of the boat’s revenues by the city of Joliet.
The late former County Executive Chuck Adelman was offered 1 percent for the county, but he turned it down, Hansen said.
“The 100 percent truth is Chuck Adelman totally blew it,” Hansen said.
But County Board Chief of Staff Bruce Friefeld, Adelman’s executive counsel at the time, disputes Hansen’s claim.
“The 1 percent offer was never made to the county,” he said. “(The city) offered a negligible amount.”
Adelman intended to negotiate a higher cut, but the city wouldn’t budge, Friefeld said.
Money and more money
Tim Wilmott, president of Hollywood Casino owner, Penn National Gaming, will be in town the casino’s anniversary party on Thursday and should run into some old friends. Wilmott was the first general manager of crosstown rival Harrah’s Joliet, which opened a year after what was then the Empress and is now Hollywood Joliet.
Wilmott said he looks at the casino and restaurants that on the old Empress site now and can imagine what kind of business it would have had in 1992, when gambling dollars were rolling in much more easily and there was less competition.
“If we had this property back in 1992, we’d be printing money,” Wilmott said. But then, he noted, the original owners didn’t do so badly themselves. “They were printing money back then. But we’d have been printing even more.”
Getting it done
There’s been lots of talk over the years over how much impact casinos had on the future growth of Joliet.
City Manager Thomas Thanas, who worked on the casino projects as a city attorney back in 1992, said Joliet got something it had not had before when the Empress opened in June 1992. It was the first casino in the Chicago area. Thousands came to gamble. Media attention was high.
“All of a sudden you had Joliet portrayed in a very positive light,” Thanas said. “And then the word got out that Joliet could make things happen and we could do it quickly.”
Later, Thanas believes, it was that reputation that brought NASCAR racing to Joliet.
Cindy Wojdyla Cain and Bob Okon
contributed to Pulse.