Members of the Aurora City Council unanimously approved a multimillion dollar casino project Tuesday night.
The deal paves the way for PENN Entertainment (formerly Penn National Gaming) to build a brick-and-mortar facility near Interstate 88, moving away from the Fox River location the company has called home since opening in 1993.
Thanks to the expanded gaming act that cleared the state’s legislature in 2019, casinos like Hollywood Casino Aurora no longer needed to be located on (or near) a river, allowing them to move to more advantageous locations where they can be easily accessed by car. Hollywood Casino’s current location offers Illinois sports betting through a retail Barstool Sportsbook location.
The 12-0 vote by the city’s council Tuesday allows Aurora to pump $50 million in bonds, covering around 16% of the project’s $360 million price tag, with the remainder paid by the company.
In mid October, PENN Entertainment announced plans to move its casinos in Aurora and Joliet inland.
As part of the deal, the city of Aurora will take over control of the former PENN Entertainment property via a land swap arrangement.
The new Hollywood Casino in Aurora will be built near Chicago Premium Outlets Mall on the grounds where two hotels and a car dealership once stood.
While state casinos are getting a boost from the 2019 gambling legislation, Illinois betting apps got a boost in March when the state eliminated the in-person registration requirement.
A Win-Win for the City of Aurora
During Tuesday’s council meeting, members shared their belief the new casino property would be an economic winner for the city, while opponents of the plan voiced concerns the arrangement wasn’t approved by residents first.
"The light is shining a little brighter — a whole lot brighter — in the city of Aurora," said Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, according to CBS Chicago.
Aurora residents, such as Jim Buzzard, let their differing opinions be known, however, voicing concerns about the city’s deal with PENN Entertainment, given the fact the facility raked in $75 million last year alone, per CBS Chicago.
"It needs to be voted on by the residents, the citizens of Aurora," Buzzard said. "We need to have this tabled until the election in April."
The casino resort is slated to open its doors to the public around 2025, with funding coming from property taxes assessed to the facility.
PENN Entertainment, which will be the first casino-resort operator in the city’s history, will be on the hook for covering the difference, should property taxes fail to cover payments toward the facility.
The new Hollywood Casino in Aurora will feature 900 slot machines, 50 table games, to go with a retail sportsbook, spa, bars, and restaurants. It’ll also include a 200-room hotel and a conference center with 10,000-square-feet of space.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Irvin told the crowd the investment made by the city is worth the effort.
"We are re-energizing our city. We are developing our city. We are reimagining our city," Irvin said.
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