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BusINess » Business » Former Empress chief wants to build Ford Heights casino

Former Empress chief wants to build Ford Heights casino

A former chief executive of Hammond’s Empress and Horseshoe casinos is putting dibs on any casino license that may go to Ford Heights by proposing a casino/hotel development at Ill. 394 and U.S. 30.

Joseph Canfora, head of Merit Development Group of Chicago, confirms he is still in the hunt for a southland casino, a prospect many think is now more likely with the Illinois Senate’s passage of a bill last week that would expand gambling.

“I always said that before I retire I would love to be involved in a land-based casino in the Chicago southland,” Canfora said. “It needs it.”

Canfora was president of Empress Casinos, which had casinos in Hammond and Joliet in the late 1990s. He also briefly oversaw Empress when it was bought by Jack Binion in 1998 and transformed into Horseshoe.

Since then, he has been involved in gaming development across the United States, including Native American casinos. In recent years he has been involved in proposals for casinos in Country Club Hills, at Hawthorne Race Course and in Ford Heights.

None of those have yet materialized because Illinois’ 10th license went to Rosemont. It would take new legislation and the governor’s signature to expand gaming to new localities in Illinois.

The bill passed by the Senate last week would add five state-regulated casinos, expand existing ones by two-thirds and give horse racing tracks slot machines. It is estimated the expansion would generate $1 billion per year in tax revenue for the state.

Canfora said the space at the Ford Heights site just off Ill. 394 would allow for development beyond just a casino, with a hotel being one of the first accessory developments he would like to see at the site. Another development group wants to work with Merit to put a ski slope at the site, Canfora said.

“One thing the market there is badly in need of is quality hotel rooms and meeting space,” Canfora said. “The region is missing a first-class hotel.”

The longtime casino developer said Ford Heights is the right place for a casino that could begin “recapturing” an Illinois customer base that has migrated to Indiana casinos over the years because of their better amenities.

“Why isn’t a state that is $13 billion in debt moving more aggressively to recapture some of the revenue that is rightfully theirs?” Canfora said.

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