Potawatomi’s Legal Challenge Revives Waukegan Bid Process

Posted on: August 2, 2023, 06:16h. 

Last updated on: August 2, 2023, 06:16h.

A lawsuit challenging the bidding process for Illinois’ Waukegan casino license has been rekindled on appeal, forcing the lower court to reconsider. Despite the winning bidder already opening a temporary casino on the premises six months ago, The Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Potawatomi, Waukegan, American Place
An artist’s rendering of “American Place,” Full House Resorts’ proposed $400 million casino complex, which is expected to open in early 2026. But could there be a monkey wrench in the works? (Image: Full House Resorts)

The Forest County Potawatomi Community tribe of Wisconsin initially filed the lawsuit against the city of Waukegan in October 2019, claiming unfair treatment during the bidding process. This came shortly after the city council rejected the tribe’s proposal and approved those of its three competitors. The lawsuit suggests that the process was rigged.

From the three contenders, Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts emerged as the victor, with plans to establish a $400 million casino property called “American Place” by early 2016.

‘Flawed Process’

The tribe currently owns the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which attracts six million visitors annually and is one of the top entertainment destinations in the Midwest.

In its lawsuit, the tribe alleges that former Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham instructed Waukegan City Council members on which bids to approve. Another federal lawsuit by the tribe claims that Cunningham favored the unsuccessful proposal of former state senator Michael Bond, who had generously donated to Cunningham’s campaign through his video gambling machine company, Tap Room Gaming.

The lawsuit also argues that the city council’s decision was influenced by a flawed and “inaccurate” report that undervalued the tribe’s contribution.

The report, prepared by Johnson Consultants, rated the Potawatomi proposal as either first or second in every category except for the amount the tribe was willing to pay for the land on which the casino would be constructed.

According to the report, the tribe’s bid for the plot was $5.6 million, the lowest among all bidders. However, the tribe claims that it never quoted this figure and later submitted additional materials emphasizing its readiness to pay $12 million. Unfortunately, this information was not included in the Johnson Consultants report.

‘Scorched Earth’

The city’s legal team dismisses the lawsuit as a “scorched earth lawsuit [that] is factually suspect.”

However, Illinois’ First District Appellate Court ruled that the lower court was incorrect in dismissing the case on grounds of lack of standing, and the tribe should be given the opportunity to present its case in court.

Justice Raymond Mitchell wrote, “Potawatomi Casino pursued a significant business opportunity to fairly compete for a casino license, and where that opportunity was denied due to the city’s alleged failure to perform the process lawfully, there is a distinct and palpable injury.”

Mitchell also stated that if the tribe’s lawsuit proves successful, the city would be within its legal rights to restart the bidding process, even though Full House Resorts has already been issued a temporary license.

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