Downtown Aurora says casino move could be good

Alderman, business owners support planned move

The Hollywood Casino, Penn Entertainment's Jay Snowden, Aurora Downtown's Marissa Amoni (Facebook, Getty, Aurora Area Convention)
The Hollywood Casino, Penn Entertainment's Jay Snowden, Aurora Downtown's Marissa Amoni (Facebook, Getty, Aurora Area Convention)

A casino’s move out of Aurora’s downtown gained some key cheerleaders.

After Jay Snowden pitched the idea of moving the Hollywood Casino out of downtown Aurora, local business owners and an alderman who say the move would be a change for the better, the Daily Herald reported.

Last week, Penn Entertainment, whose CEO is Snowden, suggested moving the casino to a site on the west side of Farnsworth Avenue on the northern edge of the city to be closer to Interstate 88.

“I think the casino needs to be in a new location,” Alderman Juany Garza, whose ward includes a large portion of the downtown area, told the outlet. “I think the new area is going to be more successful for the casino.”

Its attendance in 2019 was half of what it drew in 1994, when it admitted 2.35 million guests over the year and employed more than 1,500 people. The numbers dropped to 904,000 admissions and 312 employees in 2019.

Penn said the proliferation of casinos elsewhere, including at the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, contributed to the drop. The Hollywood’s move was announced as the $1.6 billion Bally’s Chicago casino project is getting ready to launch, a project allowed by a 2019 state gambling expansion that also allowed new large casino developments in Waukegan and the south suburbs that are in progress.

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Penn leadership believes the Aurora casino will be more successful if it’s closer to I-88 near the Chicago Premium Outlets mall.

The Hollywood casino started out as a riverboat. With legislators not wanting land-based gambling halls in the 1980s, casino riverboats became popular in cities wanting to inject more capital into waterfront neighborhoods. The Hollywood Casino opened the City of Lights I and II riverboats in Aurora in 1993. Then, the casino was allowed to permanently moor a gambling structure over the water in the early 2000s.

While the mayor and most city officials haven’t commented on the potential move, the city’s finance committee approved the redevelopment agreement. The city council is now considering the plan.

Aurora Downtown, a nonprofit group of downtown businesses and landowners, also formally supported the casino’s plans to move out of downtown. The group’s manager Marissa Amoni said development has flourished downtown and that’s expected to continue even without the casino.

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— Victoria Pruitt