10/13/2008 12:00AM

Hawthorne to bid for casino license


STICKNEY, Ill. – The owners of Hawthorne Race Course and other investors will submit a bid to the Illinois Gaming Board for an Illinois casino license this week, and the Chicago-area racetrack would commence a $500 million redevelopment project if awarded the license, Hawthorne president Tim Carey said Monday.

Hawthorne could be transformed from a moribund Thoroughbred track to a vibrant entertainment destination under the plan. Besides adding a casino, the redevelopment calls for razing the current grandstand to make way for a casino hotel, a water park and suites, a subterranean music theater in the infield, movie theaters, and retail space.

Hawthorne and its partners will submit a bid for the license as an entity called Hawthorne Gaming LLC. The development project is named Champions Resort and Casino. Hawthorne Gaming will bid for a 10th Illinois casino license that has been in limbo since the Gaming Board in 2001 denied a license for a casino in Rosemont. Bids for the license are due late Tuesday afternoon, and the Board will hold a public hearing Wednesday to announce the bidders. Within 10 days, three top bidders will be announced, and the Board hopes to issue a license before 2009.

The principal partners in the bid will be the Estate of Thomas Carey, which owns the land on which Hawthorne sits; Joe Canfora of Merit Management, an Illinois-based national hotel and casino developer that has worked on two racino projects; and Ed Pilarz of Altium Development, another Illinois-based gaming developer.

Carey said that the village of Stickney, where Hawthorne is located, has agreed to all required zoning changes. Frank Kirby, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said Monday that the horsemen’s group strongly backed the plan. The Illinois Racing Board, which has a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, also is expected to voice its support.

Carey said the redevelopment would move forward in two phases. A dormant part of the existing facility could be “retrofitted” within a half-year to house a casino, Carey said. The project calls for a 40,000 square-foot casino would that would contain 1,150 slot machines, as well as table games and a poker room.

Legislation is in place that will direct 15 percent of adjusted gross revenues from the 10th casino to the racing industry, regardless of where it operates.

Hawthorne has selling points in its bid. According to Carey, 4.2 million people live within 30 minutes driving time. Midway Airport is four miles to the south, and downtown Chicago is about seven miles away.

“The more we talked about slots, the more we thought something needed to happen here over and above racing,” Carey said. “Racing as it exists here is not going to last much longer.”