Yesterday, the Aurora City Council held a meeting and approved Penn Entertainment’s plans to relocate Hollywood Casino Aurora from Fox River to a high-traffic area near I-88 and Farnsworth Avenue, across from the Chicago Premium Outlets mall. The operator’s plan passed on a 10-1 vote, with John Laesch being the only one to vote against the proposal.
Since his election this April, he has always been against the idea of the city granting financial incentives and gifts of land to Penn Entertainment. In October 2022, the city gave $50 million to Penn Entertainment through bond issuance, supporting the company’s project to move the Hollywood Casino out of downtown.
The casino operator is expected to repay the money over the next 23 years from the increased property taxes the gambling venue is projected to generate. Under the company’s agreement with the city, Penn would have to compensate for the difference if the property taxes were not enough to cover the annual loan payment.
According to Laesch, taxpayers’ dollars should not be used to fund Penn Entertainment’s project even though the company has generated between $2.75 billion and $2.77 billion in tax revenues for the state each year over the last three years. He also added that the financing plan for the project would drain property taxes from the current district and divert them to other districts. The city’s chief financial officer, Christopher Minnick, argued that the project would not take away money currently paid to those districts. Instead, those districts would not get a share of the increased property taxes the gambling venue is expected to generate for the coming 23 years.
Penn Entertainment to Invest Millions in Moving Riverboat Casinos to Land
In 2022, Penn Entertainment rolled out plans to relocate its two riverboat casinos in Illinois to land-based locations in a bid to make them more accessible to visitors and remain competitive in the market. This May, the Illinois Gaming Board approved the company’s proposal, under which the Hollywood Casino Aurora will move from the Fox River to a land-based location.
The company will invest $360 million in the new gaming venue, which will host 900 slot machines, 50 gaming tables, and a Barstool sports betting facility. Besides, the complex will feature a 200-room hotel, bars, exquisite restaurants, a huge meeting space, and a convention center. Construction of the new gambling venue is unlikely to start before 2024 because Penn still needs to receive final approval on its construction plans and the venue’s design.
Initially, the land on which the Hollywood Casino Aurora will be located was zoned for business, wholesale, and manufacturing purposes. However, the Aurora City Council changed the zoning of the land and greenlit its conditional use for the planned development. The redevelopment agreement approved by the council allows Penn Entertainment to move its gaming venue from one taxing district to another.
Hollywood Casino Aurora opened its doors in 1993. Only three years earlier, the state implemented the Riverboat Gambling Act, which legalized riverboat gambling. But in 2019, state lawmakers introduced sweeping reforms to the existing legal framework, allowing riverboat casinos to operate on land upon receiving approval from the regulator. Rivers Casino was the first riverboat casino to secure a land-based casino license in Illinois.