Fire Damaged Casino in Illinois to Re-open in June

April 13, 2009

Officials at the fire damaged Joliet Empress Casino in Illinois have said that the casino will likely open by the end of June, an announcement that was cheered by workers at the operation.

Frank Quigley, vice president and general manager for Empress Casino, said he could not give a specific reopening date because insurance companies are still examining the remains of a March 20 fire that gutted the casino’s Egyptian-themed pavilion, which was undergoing a $50 million renovation.

Officials plan to construct a temporary entrance to the casino so it can reopen, Quigley said at a news conference. A new pavilion could be finished by mid to late 2010.

“It will be bigger and better than what we had lost,” Quigley said.

Fire officials estimated damages at $340 million. The fire sparked by a construction worker spread quickly and burned for 12 hours but was contained to the pavilion area. The main part of the casino was not heavily damaged.

“Our firefighters did such a good job saving that part that you cannot even smell smoke inside there,” Quigley said.

Based on 2008 figures, the casino could be losing more than a half million dollars daily. Joliet expects to lose about $4.5 million in revenue during the casino’s closure, City Manager Tom Thanas told the Chicago Tribune.

Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of the Empress, agreed to extend full pay and benefits to all 850 employees for 90 days.

About 150 workers are still at the casino doing jobs from human resources to moving slot machines, Quigley said. Penn National has asked the rest to volunteer at organizations including Catholic Charities, the Forest Preserve of Will County, Lambs Fold and Habitat for Humanity.

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