Binion prepares for Chicago competition

Jun 10, 2003 7:17 AM

Should the city of Chicago get an Illinois gaming license, riverboat casino licensees just over the border in Indiana will find themselves in a highly threatened position. And Jack Binion, who developed a reputation as a fighter throughout his career in the gaming industry, is not waiting for the Chicago competition to develop.

Binion, son of the legendary Benny Binion and former owner and operator of Binion’s Horseshoe Gambling Hall in Downtown Las Vegas, plans to prepare for the competition by building a 2,000-car garage next to his Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind.

"We feel like we’ve got to be competitive," said Binion. "Our market share is also growing, so we have to react to it."

The 850,000 square foot garage, which will feature an ornamental façade, will serve as the new entrance to the casino. It is expected to open in February 2004.

Binion also has started an $18 million renovation project on the second floor of the pavilion that adjoins his gaming boat. Part of the project will be a walkway that will connect to the new garage. The area will also include additional amenities.

Not too long ago, Binion was a license holder in Illinois, operating the Empress Casino in Joliet. Pressured by the state’s regulatory board, Binion sold the property to Argosy Gaming Inc. (AGY) for some $650 million, pocketing a substantial profit. The Empress was one of the state’s largest revenue producers and was strongly impacted when Illinois lawmakers last year raised the top tax bracket from 35% to $50%. But just last week, the legislature voted to increase all gaming tax rate, including the top bracket from 50% to 70%.

Meanwhile Binion has watched his Indiana riverboat, just 20 minutes from Downtown Chicago, grow into the biggest revenue producer in the Chicago market.