Illinois Might See A Casino Boom In 2023

Illinois Casino Carousel 2023

The massive gaming expansion bill Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June 2019 was notable on two fronts: It legalized sports wagering in the Land of Lincoln and provided six locations with new casino licenses.

Fast forward past a pandemic and three-plus years, and tax revenue from sports wagering — aided largely by Pritzker issuing Executive Order 2020-41 during the pandemic and repeatedly renewing it to launch mobile wagering — has outpaced tax receipts from any of those six physical venues. Combined state and county taxes have surpassed $200 million from when the first bets were placed in March 2020, while casino tax receipts in those six locations have totaled just $12 million — all from Hard Rock operating its temporary venue in Rockford.

The gap between the two disciplines is to be expected. Construction on new casino venues could not take place during much of the COVID-19 pandemic due to economic woes and health concerns. But as the Illinois Gaming Board began declaring operators preliminary suitable starting in late 2020, shovels have broken ground and progress has been made all over the state.

It is possible all six locations could have gaming available before the end of 2023, be it in a temporary or permanent venue. At least two and as many as four permanent venues could throw open their doors to the public, giving bettors new avenues of gaming entertainment and the state new avenues of tax revenue. Here is a look at the six locations and their progress reports as 2022 comes to a close.


Operator: Golden Nugget
License Status per IGB Website: Preliminary Suitable
Target Opening Date: March 2023

Despite having previous applicant Haven Gaming’s casino plans fall through in 2020, Danville could wind up being the first of the six locations granted a casino license to open a permanent venue in 2023. Golden Nugget, which was deemed preliminary suitable by the IGB in early March, broke ground six weeks later.

General Manager Juris Basenes told the News-Gazette in November that construction remains on pace for a potential March opening, having completed nearly all of the outdoor construction and paving work. Basenes has also been filling out his supervisory staff, and job fairs in the region are expected to start with the turning of the calendar year.

The 60,000-square-foot venue is expected to have 550 slots, 14 table games, a retail sportsbook, and two restaurants. Danville is located less than 10 miles from the Indiana border in southeastern Illinois and less than 40 miles from Champaign-Urbana, where the University of Illinois is located.

Williamson County (Carterville)

Operator: Walker’s Bluff
License Status per IGB Website: Preliminary Suitable
Target Opening Date: 2023

Walker’s Bluff’s decision to forego a temporary venue and begin construction on its permanent location should result in its permanent venue opening at some point in the second half of next year. The gaming group recently announced the application period to attend its dealer school opened, with candidates going through 16 weeks of training for roughly 20 hours per week starting in January before a determination is made on their employment viability.

Walker’s Bluff did not offer a specific timeline for opening its casino and hotel during the 2023 calendar year, but the dealer school’s program running from January through May makes a potential opening in the third quarter possible. Williamson County recently took up discussion on the type of liquor license the location will have, with county commissioners debating the merits of a blanket license that would allow Walker’s Bluff to have the ability to serve liquor 24/7 at the casino, outdoor venue, hotel, and at least four restaurants.

The Carterville casino will be approximately 30 miles from the Missouri state line and 60 miles from Cape Girardeau.


Operator: Hard Rock
License Status per IGB Website: Licensed
Target Opening Date: Temporary Casino Active Since November 2021; Permanent Venue Late 2023

Rockford remains the only location of the six approved for new casino licenses that currently offers gaming, with Hard Rock having launched its “Opening Act” temporary venue in November 2021. The Seminole Tribe’s venue has been conducting exclusively slots and electronic gaming near the Wisconsin border and has generated close to $58.3 million in revenue in 12 months of operation. That has resulted in nearly $8.7 million in state taxes and an additional $3.4 million in local tax receipts.

The big news came in late September, when Hard Rock broke ground on its permanent $310 million venue that is targeted to open in late 2023. Maintaining that timeline will be crucial — nearly 100,000 cubic yards of fill has been placed and foundation work underway — as eventual competition will come from across the state line, where Ho-Chunk Nation is expected to break ground on a casino in Beloit in the fourth quarter of next year.

Hard Rock has applied for both retail and mobile sports wagering licenses with the Illinois Gaming Board, though there is no definitive timeline for when the state agency will review and potentially approve those applications while Hard Rock operates “Opening Act.” Given that the IGB approved only one management services provider licensee for mobile wagering in both 2021 (Barstool Sportsbook) and 2022 (BetMGM), it is a crapshoot as to whether Hard Rock could get approved in 2023, as its application is one of five currently in the queue.


Operator: Full House Resorts
License Status per IGB Website: Preliminary Suitable
Target Opening Date: Temporary Venue Q1 2023; Permanent Venue

“The Temporary” at American Place may be the next temporary casino to open in Illinois, as much of the venue has been completed. In its most recent quarterly report published in November, Full House stated it hoped to have its entire slot floor — with more than 1,000 gaming positions — installed and available for testing by the IGB by the end of that month.

Given a projected timeline of three months from installation to completion of testing, the expectation is The Temporary will open at some point during the first quarter of 2023. Full House continues to be bullish on its Lake County location, noting a population base of 700,000 and a location in “one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S.”

Full House has yet to apply for a retail sports wagering license, per the Illinois Gaming Board website, but its expected retail operator, Circa Sports, in May submitted its application for a management services provider license required to offer mobile sports wagering. If the application is approved, Illinois would be the fourth state where Circa conducts mobile betting, along with Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa.

Suburban Cook County (Homewood/East Hazel Crest)

Operator: Wind Creek
License Status per IGB Website: Preliminary Suitable
Target Opening Date: Late 2023/Early 2024

Another casino that will be situated within 10 miles of the Indiana state line, Wind Creek broke ground on its 70,000-square-foot casino in June and hopes to open its doors late next year, though early 2024 is the more likely outcome. Like Walker’s Bluff, Wind Creek opted to bypass the temporary casino route, looking to stake a claim in the already-saturated Chicagoland market that features three casinos in Northwest Indiana and the eventual Bally’s Casino to be constructed in downtown Chicago.

Wind Creek picked up one notable partnership this fall, reaching a multi-year deal in November to become the official casino of the Chicago Bulls. Wind Creek will get in-arena branding and digital content during home games and will offer in-game competitions and social media sweepstakes.

The $440 million casino is expected to have 1,350 slot positions, 54 table games, entertainment, dining, and a 250-room hotel.


Operator: Bally’s
License Status per IGB Website: Pending
Target Opening Date: Temporary Casino Q2 2023; Permanent Venue 2026

The last venue to gain momentum, Bally’s is awaiting IGB approval for preliminary suitability for licensing that would allow it to operate a temporary casino at Medinah Temple in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Earlier this month, Bally’s $1.7 billion proposal was approved by the full city council, allowing the gaming company to begin construction on its permanent venue at the Freedom Center in nearby River West.

Even after tweaks to its original proposal, Bally’s is still being criticized for choosing the Tribune publishing plant as its home to build what it calls its flagship casino. Residents continue to express worries over crime, property values, and both noise and light pollution. Additionally, the crowdfunding method Bally’s would like to use to generate 25% minority ownership is still being scrutinized by the IGB.

Still, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s ability to get the casino to this point after more than three decades of failed attempts by predecessors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emmanuel remains one of her key reelection campaign planks. The projection of $800 million in annual revenue at the casino’s full maturity that would generate $200 million in taxes towards the city’s underfunded police and fire pension funds continues to be a carrot Lightfoot dangles to city residents as she seeks a second term in February.

Photo: Shutterstock

Author: Ryan Gonzales