Infuriating the South suburbs and good government advocates, the Illinois Gaming Board picked as finalists for the state's 10th casino license three proposals that all hail from the North or Northwest suburbs - including Rosemont, which previously lost the license under a cloud of suspicion.
"The South suburbs got screwed again," said a furious Burt Odelson, attorney for Country Club Hills, the site of one of the losing proposals.
The decision was contested even among board members, as two members went out of their way to say they disagreed with the other three and would have selected Country Club Hills as a finalist.
Making the final cut out of seven applicants were Trilliant Gaming Ill. LLC, with its Rosemont proposal; Midwest Gaming with its Des Plaines proposal; and Waukegan Gaming LLC with its Waukegan proposal.
Jay Stewart of the Better Government Association said the board's decision belied any pretense that the state is in the casino business for the purported reason of economic development of poor communities.
"I think what this indicates - is it's about how much money the state (government) can make. All this pretense has been stripped away," Stewart said.
Many observers were shocked that Rosemont made the cut when the town's last casino, Emerald Casino, failed even to open after Illinois Gaming Board members revoked its license because it discovered hidden Emerald investors who it said were tied to the mob.
At the time the license was mired in revocation proceedings, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan even said it appeared there were mob ties to the town and the late mayor, Don Stephens. Stephens went to his grave denying any such association.
Madigan's office said Friday the attorney general "remains concerned about Rosemont as a location for the 10th casino license" and called for close investigative scrutiny of all three bidding companies and locations.
"While the Attorney General appreciates the need for the 10th casino license to be put to work for the people of the state, she insists that any decision to award this license must be focused on the integrity of the location and operator," said spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler in a prepared statement. "... As the IGB scrutinizes the bids, the Attorney General expects that they will, in the most transparent way possible, fully explain to the public how they are addressing those concerns, including Rosemont's past conduct in the Emerald casino matter."
In what may have been a veiled reference to Rosemont's past, board attorney Mike Fries made a pointed statement before the three winners were announced.
"No one should assume that by naming three finalists, the board has tacitly approved any applicant," Fries said.
But the statement also came immediately after Fries listed the criteria the board considered in narrowing the field. The first factor he listed was "character (and) ... integrity of the applicant."
Another criteria was the amount of each company's opening bid, and Trilliant's bid at $435 million was nearly double that of Waukegan's $225 million. Midwest Gaming clocked in at $100 million, but company officials have said other revenue provisions made that bid actually higher.
Des Plaines Mayor Tony Arredia agreed. He said the Midwest Gaming proposal wasn't an "apples to apples" comparison with the others and that the company's success in opening two casinos in the past three years and winning a license to open another in Pennsylvania last year will give it an edge.
Likewise, Waukegan partner Ed Duffy said he doesn't think that Rosemont's presence in the final three will mean his company needs to significantly jack up its bid.
"I don't think so," said Duffy, declining to speculate on whether the board picked Rosemont merely as a stalking horse to drive up Des Plaines' and Waukegan's bids.
"I hope this board considered we've given Rosemont two chances and they've failed," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. He argues Waukegan is the best pick because it would not take gamblers away from Elgin's Grand Victoria Casino, whereas Des Plaines and Rosemont would.
Bob Stephenson, a lawyer for Rosemont, said it's no mystery why the town was picked: It's simply the best location and has the largest revenue-sharing agreement with 70 different economically disadvantaged towns.
"Financially it's the best proposal and best location," Stephenson said.
Waukegan Mayor Richard H. Hyde said the revenue sharing agreement of his town, which sorely needs more revenue, with six other towns would benefit a net population of 1 million people and goes a long way toward satisfying the criteria of helping distressed areas.
But Odelson said if board members wanted to help the poor, the South suburbs were the obvious pick.
Board member Eugene Winkler seemed to agree. In a statement after the vote, he said the South suburbs have been the primary location of poor, public housing residents displaced from Chicago.
"The South suburbs have a real need for what a casino can do," Winkler said, who was joined in voting for Country Club Hills by board member Joe Moore Jr.
Odelson said a South suburban location would have been the only location that could have stemmed the bleeding of Illinois dollars into Indiana casinos.
But Waukegan has a similar argument: that it's location will capture those North suburban gamblers who trek into Wisconsin to gamble at Native American establishments.
The three finalists will give a public presentation on their proposals on Nov. 25 before the gaming board.