City of Aurora Approves Casino Bonds Amid Criticism

Written By J.R. Duren on October 27, 2022
relocation funding hollywood casino aurora approval

There are two ways to look at Aurora, Illinois’ $50 million in bonds it will use to help fund the construction of Penn Entertainment‘s Hollywood Casino Aurora. It’s a smart way to fund a development that will benefit the city, or it’s a way to give a billionaire a big check.

Those were the two clear opinions at the Aurora city council’s meeting this week. While council members voted to approve the deal, members of the public took to protesting it.

Spirited community members frame bonds as handouts for the wealthy

The city council voted to approve the $50 million in bonds near the end of the meeting, but public comment about the bond proposal started at the beginning of the meeting.

One resident tells council, ‘You work for Aurora,’ uses check prop

Aurora community member David Cannon was the first to speak. He started his time by presenting a petition signed by 550 community members asking the city council to reject the casino deal.

Though the number seems small, Cannon noted that it was more people than the votes some city council members earned in the past two elections.

Cannon then pressed the council, asking the members who they worked for.

“It’s not (Mayor) Richard C. Irving, and it’s certainly not Penn Entertainment Incorporated,” Cannon said. “You work for Aurorans, and in the course of less than two weeks they’ve told you loud and clear that this deal is unacceptable.”

Cannon then asked the council to send the plan back to the Mayor’s Office or Economic Development for an overhaul.

“Ask the mayor’s office of economic development to come back with a better proposal that doesn’t give our money and land away to a greedy corporation,” Cannon said. “Please do not give our money away. Signed, 550 of your neighbors.”

Cannon then turned attention to a giant $50 million check he brought with him.

“If you vote this proposal through, I insist that you sign this check,” he said. “If not, this check will be around town for the next five months. You will close your eyes, and all you will see is the check.”

Applause and shouts from meeting attendees peppered Cannon’s speech.

Another resident demands end to billionaire handouts

After Cannon, a community member named Matthew Orr provided public comment.

Orr echoed much of what Cannon discussed. He highlighted the city’s efforts to give money to a company in Penn Entertainment that makes billions each year.

We are giving people that make billions of dollars off gambling more of our money that could be going toward school districts, that could be going toward library districts,” Orr said. “We are giving away our money to big corporations.”

Committee approves $50 million in bonds despite public comments

In the end, the council approved the plan for the city to help fund the new casino with $50 million in bonds. Among the reasons why councilmembers approved funding for the casino:

  • Penn is a trusted partner in Aurora because of its multi-decade presence in the city.
  • Penn operates casinos in other cities; they know what they’re doing.
  • Including a Barstool Sportsbook at the new property increases its legitimacy

Because the funding plan is approved, the city can sell $50 million in bonds. It will contribute the money from those bonds to the casino project.

The City of Aurora will have to pay interest on those bonds, though. That shouldn’t be a problem, councilmembers have said, because the city will use the property-tax proceeds from the new casino development to cover the cost of the interest. If for some reason, the taxes aren’t enough to cover the bond interest payments, the casino will pay the difference.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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