Rivers Casino Opens, Wows in Illinois

Despite a seasoned history of ongoing gaming developments, legislation and news coming from the state, Illinois has a new casino in its Chicagoland area. Opened in July 2011, the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is owned, developed and operated by Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, who obtained the tenth and final gaming license in the Prairie State.

The property is in a prime spot, nearby O’Hare airport and bordered by an interstate, and boasts more than 44,000 square feet of gaming with more than 1,050 slots, 48 table games, a VIP area with a gaming salon and lounge, a host of dining options, and two entertainment spots.

“Rivers will raise the bar for gaming and entertainment in the Midwest,” said Greg Carlin, Rivers Casino CEO, in a press release. “We have created a unique and exciting experience that will appeal to enthusiastic gamers, entertainment seekers, tourists and conventioneers.”

It’s already doing so well that nearby markets are feeling the effect of Rivers’ opening. For instance, Northern Indiana casinos were reported seeing a fall in their gaming revenue in October.

Steve Peck, senior associate at Klai Juba Architects, explains that their firm was approached by Midwest Gaming in 2009 to design the new casino. They began planning by first determining the size of the building based on the number of gaming positions, and then traffic flow and building placement became critical. “We looked at numerous placements of the casino and parking structure, as well as how best to queue traffic volume for patrons as well as service trucks,” he commented. “The property came with some key characteristics for patron and service access, plus we planned the site for any remote chance of expansion, and did so to limit disruption of the patron experience.”

He also says that, “As for design, we are well aware of the architectural influence of the greater Chicago area. Our intent was to be architecturally respectful to the region with a fairly simple, straightforward approach.”

In an admirable move, the team didn’t feel the need to make a statement with the building, and agreed early on that they didn’t want to theme it as if it were a Las Vegas casino, but rather to have a solid design base to complement the region.

They used precast and natural stone products from the area for the regional touch. And, as Peck explained: “The high quality of finishes on the entire building is unprecedented on a casino project. It is a strong testament that shows Midwest Gaming’s commitment to building a quality project in this region. Neil Bluhm, Greg Carlin and their ownership team heavily influenced this direction. They were great to work with.”

Most of the casino emits warm colors and tones, though most of the dining spots have a cool vibe. Dark wood panels, brown and red tones envelop the gaming floor, and aisles are large, which gives the floor a spacious feel.

Gaming laws can often make building casinos a challenge, and here, Illinois law states that the casino floor must be over water, so Klai Juba developed a waterproof bladder system under the casino that spans more than 40,000 square feet. So anywhere that there is a gaming position, about 30 inches below the casino floor is the top of water that is several inches deep. The water is conditioned and cycled with pumps.

Peck recalled that there were many memorable moments during the design and construction on Rivers Casino, but one in particular he shared. “I think about sitting in the owner’s conference room one afternoon,” he said. “Our view looked out directly at the Hancock Center in downtown Chicago; it’s a gorgeous view. We were on a conference call with the contractor and stone supplier. They alluded to already cutting stone for this project and it being out of the quarry, yet the design team hadn’t seen the stone other than small samples during design. We couldn’t be certain what shade or colored veins the stone would turn out to be. In a moment, we realized we needed to be at the quarry as soon as possible. Within minutes, we booked flights, flew and then drove until 1 a.m. to get there. The next morning we arrived at the quarry, and just as we expected, the stone looked great, so we were taken on a first-class tour of the quarry and plant. It was time well spent to ensure quality was maintained.”

Running into problems is pretty commonplace during construction, but surprisingly Peck says everything was pretty smooth on this project. There were no major problems, which Peck attributes to all parties doing their job well. He had kind words about the team: “Both the owner’s representative, Charles Porter and his Development Management Associates team, along with Eric Bullion’s team at Pepper Construction, were highly effective in managing the design and construction process, while keeping the project on schedule and on budget. This project was very well organized and efficient from start to finish.”

Rivers Casino had some “green” practices, and is on track to be certified LEED Gold, which Peck says will be the country’s first casino with that certification. Construction debris was recycled, LED lights and skylights help conserve energy, and in another neat feature, Canopy’s (the casino’s resident buffet) walls are adorned with real vines.

Though the gaming landscape seems to change on an almost daily basis in Illinois lately, one thing is for certain: The recently opened Rivers Casino is a bright spot for gaming in the Midwest.

Owner: Midwest Gaming, LLC
Operator: Rush Street Gaming
Owner’s Representative and LEED Coordinator: Development Management Associates
Architect: Klai Juba Architects
Interior Designer: Casino, front and back of house: Cleo Design areas;
Restaurants: DMAC Architecture Inc.
Structural Engineer: Clark Engineers
Mechanical and Plumbing Engineer: FEA Consulting Engineers
Electrical Engineer: RHR Consulting Engineers
Contractor: Pepper Construction
Specialty Lighting: The Ruzika Co., and Illuminating Concepts
Landscape Design: Laflin Design Group
Civil Engineer: Haeger Engineering
Traffic Consultant: Kenig, Lindgren, O’Hare, Aboona Inc. (KLOA)
Parking Garage: Walker Parking Consultants
Audio/Visual: Sportview
Specifications: Spectra Consulting
Building Envelope: Roofing Consultants LTD and Heitmann & Associates
Signage: Ambrosini Design