Argosy’s Empress Casino, located on the banks of the Des Plaines River in Joliet Illinois, was among the first riverboat casinos in Illinois in mid 1992.
Not a riverboat casino in the traditional sense of the word, Argosy’s Empress Casino was built both on land and over the Des Plaines River and was not an actual riverboat. Featuring a large replica of the Sphinx, several pyramids mounted on the roof of the venue, and hieroglyphics decorating its outer walls, the Ancient Egyptian theme of Argosy’s Empress Casino was its signature feature and a major tourist attraction.
Tragically, 17 years after it was first erected, Argosy Empress Casino was tragically destroyed in a fire that broke out during renovations.
The Early Years
Originally named simply Empress Casino, the venue was renamed Argosy’s Empress Casino when it was bought over by the Argosy Gaming Company in 1999. The initial launch of Argosy’s Empress Casino by owner TJ Lambrecht and a group of fellow investors came amid some scepticism from industry experts, who doubted the feasibility of a riverboat-type casino in Illinois.
The success of the casino and entertainment complex therefore came as a pleasant surprise to both the industry and the local economy of Joliet, 40 miles southwest of Chicago.
During its heyday, Argosy’s Empress Casino featured a full casino with ample slots and table games, a bar-come-nightclub, a gift shop, a ballroom, a private bar, a Middle-Eastern-themed coffeehouse, a 102-room hotel, a swimming pool and whirlpool, a business conference centre, and an RV park.
The Fire of 2009
By 2009, Argosy’s Empress Casino had undergone several changes of ownership, with the deed to the property then in the hands of Penn National Gaming, who had acquired it – along with the entire Argosy Gaming Company – in 2005.
It was spark from a welder’s torch during a US$ 50 million renovation project that ignited the fire that destroyed the whole Argosy’s Empress Casino complex in 2009. Authorities attributed the rapid spread of the flames to the fact that it burned in areas that the sprinklers could not reach, whilst Argosy’s Empress Casino owners also laid blame on the construction company’s failure to place a fire extinguisher within the welder’s reach while he was working. Mercifully, no one was seriously harmed during the incident.
The resultant closing of Argosy’s Empress Casino posed a major threat to both the resort’s owners and the Joliet economy, as the venue then employed some 800 people and was the city’s second-largest tax payer.
Fortunately, Penn National Gaming was able to reopen the Argosy’s Empress Casino gaming area after just 97 days, ultimately reopening the complex under a new name in June, 2009.
The Launch of Hollywood Casino Joliet
The newly reconstructed Argosy’s Empress Casino was reintroduced to the world as Hollywood Casino Joliet, as Penn had incorporated the venue into its Hollywood Gaming Club Casino brand. Even the street on which Argosy’s Empress Casino had stood was renamed from Empress Drive to Hollywood Boulevard.
For the most part, the original Egyptian theme of Argosy’s Empress Casino was abandoned in favour of an art-deco Hollywood style. The hotel, however, was least affected by the fire and so retained its Egyptian theme and the rooftop of the RV park entrance kept the pyramid mounted on top of it.
About the Hollywood Casino Joliet
The predecessor of the late Argosy’s Empress Casino, Hollywood Casino Joliet, features a Las-Vegas-style casino with over 1000 slots and numerous table games. The new venue also includes five restaurants, a VIP lounge, luxury hotel, RV resort, and amphitheatre.