Politically-connected developer wins 10th Illinois license

Dec 30, 2008 5:02 PM
Industry Insider by Ray Poirier | On the surface, it appeared that the Illinois Gaming Board was looking for the best deal it could get for the state’s 10th and final gaming license. But following the choice of the third highest bidder, politics seemed to have played a major role in the selection.

The winner, billionaire Chicago developer Neil Bluhm and his partners in Midwest Gaming and Entertainment Inc., offered $125 million upfront to put a modest casino in the Chicago suburbs of Des Plaines, Illinois.

Rejected on the 3-1 vote were a $250 million casino in economically depressed Waukegan and a $475 million project in another Chicago suburb, Rosemont. The latter location was the original holder of the license but it was withdrawn by the state following charges that the community and the casino were mob dominated.

Trilliant Gaming, the Rosemont bidder, was headed by squeaky-clean former casino executive Alex Yemenidjian (pictured above), who worked closely with Terry Lanni in the development of MGM MIRAGE Inc. Still, the bid was rejected on the basis that Rosemont continues to have mob influence.

Waukegan Gaming’s bid was soured by the involvement of Springfield powerbroker William Cellini.

During the gaming hearing, Ed Duffy, Waukegan’s managing partner, said Cellini had sold his interest in the venture some 18 months earlier. Cellini has been charged with plotting to squeeze a firm seeking business with the state for a $1.5 million campaign contribution to Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

On the other hand, Bluhm was a major supporter of the Barack Obama presidential bid and worked with the Pritzker Family, also big Obama supporters, in building the Niagara Fallsview Casino in Canada.

Bluhm, who heads a company that received one of the three Philadelphia casino licenses from the Pennsylvania Gaming Board, recently was permitted to buy a majority interest in the Pittsburgh casino project proposed by Detroit entrepreneur Don Barden.

Although he has no casino interests in Las Vegas, Bluhm was one of the partners in Riviera Acquisition Co., an association that made at least two unsuccessful bids to buy the Riviera Hotel/Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.