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Bo Jackson joins investment group looking to open Calumet City casino – Chicago Sun-Times

He knows football. He knows baseball.

But does Bo know casinos?

Two-sport pro legend Bo Jackson is trying his hand at the gambling game with a stake in a development group vying for a license to open a new casino in Chicago’s south suburbs.

The Heisman-winning running back and former White Sox slugger — and the face of one of Nike’s most famous advertising campaigns — has become an equity partner in the proposed Southland Live Casino, which is looking to hit pay dirt in Calumet City.

Jackson, 58, has made his home in the southwest suburbs since ending his groundbreaking athletic career in 1994. His business career has proven even more versatile, launching sports training complexes in multiple states, running packaging, food and marketing companies and — soon — rolling out a line of CBD products.

“I’ve never wanted to be known as a one-dimensional person. To me, it’s not cool to be known just for my sports career,” Jackson told the Sun-Times on Thursday. “I have a brain and a college education, and I try to use it to the best of my ability.”

Former NFL players Bo Jackson, second from left, and Willie Brown, third from left, talk to Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, right, before a game in Chicago in 2015.
Former NFL players Bo Jackson, second from left, and Willie Brown, third from left, talk to Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, right, before a game in Chicago in 2015.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file

But Calumet City would mark the first gambling venture in his wide-ranging portfolio. Jackson said he was drawn to the investment group because they’ve committed to partnering with nearby South Suburban College on a new hospitality management program.

“I want to help employ people. I want to get kids off the corner, into college and into a good job,” he said. “The thing we want to do is bring life back into the South Side of Chicago and the suburbs — make it a place where people want to go instead of avoid. Some people might look at this as a gaming casino. I’m looking at it as an opportunity for a lot of people, a lot of underprivileged kids.

“If we are allowed to do that, trust me — it will be done. I don’t blow smoke,” he said.

Jackson declined to say how large his stake is in the $275 million project, which is up against bids from Lynwood, Matteson and a site that straddles Homewood and East Hazel Crest.

Rendering of the proposed Calumet City casino.
Rendering of the proposed Calumet City casino.
Provided by Delaware North

All four are competing for a single casino license authorized for the south suburbs under a sweeping gambling expansion signed into law two years ago by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Regulators at the Illinois Gaming Board are expected to narrow the field to three after each group makes a public presentation at a special meeting next week. A winner is expected to be chosen by early next year.

Jackson’s investment makes the Calumet City pitch “a majority minority-owned limited liability company,” according to the group. About 53% of the investors are people of color, including 16% who are African American, 24% Latin American and roughly 13% Asian/Pacific Islander American, the group said in a statement.

Another key investor in the group led by gambling operator Delaware North is Naperville entrepreneur Daniel Fischer, who runs the chain of Dotty’s video gambling lounges — and who has already landed a new casino in Rockford.

Fischer also tapped some local star power to seal that deal, enlisting Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen and his trademark checkered Flying V to get officials behind the Hard Rock Casino Rockford, which will take its first bets at a temporary site opening later this month. The musician’s wife, Karen Nielsen, is one of the investors in that gambling mecca.

Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen performs before a presentation touting the Hard Rock Casino Rockford in 2019.
Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen performs before a presentation touting the Hard Rock Casino Rockford in 2019.
Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Fischer’s Rockford project won state approval despite a Gaming Board investigation of his video gambling empire. Court records stemming from a vicious ongoing legal battle between Fischer and a rival slot machine company showed regulators were considering disciplinary action against him earlier this year, though none has been handed down.

The Calumet City proposal calls for a 150,000-square-foot complex with an 18-story hotel at the River Oaks Center mall near 159th Street and Torrence Avenue. The group claims it’ll create 1,150 part- and full-time jobs when it’s up and running and generate $200 million in projected annual revenue.

Under state law, that would shake out to about $8 million in annual tax revenue for Calumet City, with another $6 million being doled out among 42 suburbs in the Southland region, where state lawmakers have been pushing to open a casino for decades.

Applicants for the south suburban casino, plus two others competing for a separate license in north suburban Waukegan, will make their final public pitches during a virtual Gaming Board meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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