DANVILLE – Danville officials and casino developers hope that 2021 is the year their long-pursued project gets started. A revamped lineup of investors and developers is awaiting Illinois Gaming Board approval for their new license application, after a 2019 application was deemed incomplete and was withdrawn.
Casino resort chain Golden Nugget is loaning money and its brand name for the Danville casino project, which would also include a Landry’s restaurant (both Golden Nugget and the Landry’s restaurant chain are owned by parent company Landry’s Inc., headed by Houston billionaire Tillman Fertitta).
Real estate developer Wilmorite Management would co-manage the project with Golden Nugget and operate the casino. Wilmorite became involved with the project in January 2020; the initial state gaming license application was withdrawn last summer, and the application for the revised project was filed with the state Gaming Board in November.
Wilmorite Vice President of Gaming Development James A. Wilmot says even though video gaming (which was legalized in Illinois in 2009) has taken a bite out of their market, he thinks a casino and restaurant in Danville would attract gamblers.
“You don’t get a total experience playing a quick slot at a restaurant or the lobby of a country club,” says Wilmot. “Well, when you walk into our facility, you have a highly safe, securitized gaming experience that’s meant for adults.”
The new Danville casino proposal calls for around 500 slot machines and ten to 15 table games, which is less than half the gaming positions proposed for phase one of the 2019 proposal. But Wilmot says they still hope to eventually expand the project to include a hotel and conference center, which was included in the 2019 proposal as a later-phase project.
“Phase One is small,” Wilmot admits. “We’re not hiding that. But we have high hopes that the market will demand us to immediately increase the size of the facility and the scope of the amenities, soon thereafter opening.”
Even with its smaller scale, Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Junior says the casino will create jobs and tax revenue from the start, and also help local businesses, “because they’ll supply the food that’s used at the restaurant. They’ll supply a lot of the equipment that’s used for cleaning and things like that. So it will have a huge impact on our community.”
Wilmot says building the first phase of the Danville casino will be a $25 million project, creating around 300 jobs. He says opening the casino will create permanent jobs in “the low 300s.” But he says they will be mindful of the COVID-19 pandemic, whatever stage it may be in, once they open.
“Obviously there’s a lot of changes with COVID,” says Wilmot. “There’s extra precautions, there’s spacing requirements. These are all things we’re taking into account as we finalize our design and plans.”
Plans are to open the casino in an existing building in the Eastgate industrial park on Danville’s east side. Wilmot says the 12,000 feet of available space in the building will give them room to expand when the time comes. He says building a larger casino along I-74 could be a future option, if they believe an expanded project is viable.
Wilmot says if the Illinois Gaming Board approves their application this spring or summer, the Golden Nugget Danville casino could be ready to open in late 2021 or early 2022. And once it opens, he expects the casino will see 500,000 to 700,000 visitors during its first year.