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Des Plaines casino puts on game face

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

With just one week before Rivers Casino opens in Des Plaines, the machines and employees are ready. Are the customers?

Des Plaines got the state's 10th casino license, which was frozen in litigation for a decade. But now, Rivers Casino, www.riverscasino.net/, is focusing on the fun: the facility will have a 147,000 square foot casino, several restaurants and an entertainment complex.

"You know you're never not nervous about it," Bill Keena, the casino's general manager, said Monday. He's more concerned about what will be. "We're gonna throw a wide net. We have to have a product that will appeal to the masses and as time goes on we can find our target market. It's a work in progress."

That's the challenge for a new casino, which doesn't yet have a database of customers. Who are they? Where do they come from? What'll they spend?

Because of its location and a powerful nearby hotel presence, one early estimate is that the Rivers Casino will generate $150 million in taxes for the state every year. What is has generated already are jobs -- more than 1,000 mostly full, but some part-time, jobs. A bit less than a third of those jobs are in food service - a bread and butter staple of every casino. Chef William McIlroy oversees half a dozen different dining venues, but confesses, he's a devoted burger guy.

"We've tried our own blend. We've got it down pat. It's a special weave and technique. It's proprietary," Chef William McIlroy said. "No not gonna tell you. It's really good though.'

When Midwest Gaming broke ground for the casino 15 months ago, there were no announced plans for new casino licenses, slots at racetracks or the airports, but there are now. And that raises questions about cannibalization, and just how many gambling dollars are out there.

"We're not gonna worry about the other competitors. We're gonna go out and be aggressive as we can and make sure that wide net gets to the customers here and delivers on customer service and gives a reason for customers who come here to come back," Keena said.

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