Three Players Left Competing for Chicago Casino Project

Three Players Left Competing for Chicago Casino Project

When Mayor Lori Lightfoot discarded two bids last month to build a Chicago casino, she left three players competing for the multi-billion dollar project to bring tax revenue, visitors and jobs to the city.

The Chicago Tribune states that the remaining proposals will also dramatically change the face of one Chicago neighborhood for decades to come, turning it into a gambling and entertainment mecca.

This week, developers behind the Hard Rock, Bally's and Rivers bids are making their case to residents of the Near South Side, River West and South loop in three separate community engagement meetings. They will address concerns about everything from crime and traffic to home values.

Some changes have been made to win over neighbors and the mayor's office before the decision is made to forward a proposal to the Illinois Gaming Board for their final approval. The city has stressed the importance of an equity component requiring at least 25% minority investment in the casino. Bally's is tweaking the terms of a minority investment program that was criticized for a call option allowing the casino to buy out the minority shareholders after six years.

Bally's Soo Kim stated that they have modified it to let the shareholders stay in if they want to and if they want to sell, they will provide that to them.

There is also an environmental concern of a casino along the Chicago River. Friends of the Chicago River, a 43 year old nonprofit organization dedicated to cleaning up and improving the 156 mile waterway, has expressed concern that the two riverfront casino proposals - Bally's Tribune and Rivers 78 - represent "an intense entertainment use" that will completely change the character of some of the largest remaining river edge sites in Chicago.

The group would prefer not to see any casino built along the river, but would encourage a rethinking of the proposed designs to incorporate natural riverbanks, urban forests and other native shrubs, and no sea walls or "big glass buildings for birds to fly into."

The city is looking for a casino to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue to fill its public pension funding holes, while boosting Chicago as a tourism destination. Resistance from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority over converting any of its McCormick Place campus to a casino derailed two of the proposals last month.

Here are how the remaining bids stand:


Hard Rock Chicago

 - Florida-based Hard Rock International operates more than a dozen casinos, including the recently opened Hard Rock Casino Rockford, which received approval from the Illinois Gaming Board in February to build a permanent casino on the site of the former Clock Tower Resort.

In Chicago, Hard Rock is proposing a $1.75 billion casino at One Central, a massive mixed-use project Landmark Development and hopes to build over the train tracks west of Soldier Field. The casino proposal includes:


 - A 3,500 seat live entertainment venue

 - A 500-room hotel 

 - Other amenities


One Central still needs $6.5 billion in state funding to get off the ground. Loop Capital CEO Jim Reynolds, a 50% partner in the Hard Rock Chicago proposal, said the casino is nevertheless ready to move forward on its own.

Hard Rock plans to open a temporary casino in the second quarter of 2023 and the permanent facility by the third quarter of 2025.

As to the minority investor component, Hard Rock believes it is exceeding its requirements. Loop Capital is the controlling partner with Landmark Development of a 50% interest in the proposed casino, while Hard Rock itself has been owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida since 2007. Reynolds stated that this casino would actually be 100% minority owned and controlled.


Bally's Tribune

 - Bally's was once a Chicago-based casino operator and is a storied name in the gambling industry. The publicly traded Rhode Island company is looking to build its flagship casino in Chicago and bought that name in 2020 from Caesars Entertainment.

The new Bally's owns and manages 14 casinos across 10 states. In June, Bally's made its entrance into Illinois with the $120 million acquisition of Jumer's Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, which it renamed Bally's Quad Cities.

While the city eliminated Bally's proposed casino at the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yards, Bally's $1.74 billion bid at the 30 acre site of Tribune Publishing's printing plant in River West remains in the running and would include:


 - Building a casino

 - A hotel

 - 3,000 seat theater

 - Outdoor music venue


Bally's has an option to buy the 41 year old Freedom Center from Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group, which acquired it in 2019 as part of its $4.1 billion purchase of Tribune Media - the former broadcast parent of Tribune Publishing.

If approved, Bally's plans to open a temporary casino by the second quarter of 2023, with the permanent casino scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2026.

The site is already approved for rezoning as a massive mixed-use development. The casino plans to have three new connections on Halsted Street to improve the traffic patterns and alleve concerns over traffic congestion.


Rivers 78

  - Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, which owns four casinos including Rivers Casino Des Plaines, lost out on its bid to build Rivers McCormick, but still has skin in the game with a proposed $1.62 billion riverfront casino at The 78, Related Midwest's 62 acre megadevelopment slated for long-vacant land in the South Loop. 

The proposal includes:


 - Observation tower overlooking Roosevelt Road

 - A live entertainment venue

 - 300-room hotel

 - Docking for boats at the casino which would anchor an entertainment district on the north end of the development


A temporary riverboat casino would open in the second quarter of 2024, and the permanent casino in the fourth quarter of 2025.

According to Crain's Chicago Business, this would be the first casino to be built first with a neighborhood sprouting up around it. Related Midwest CEO Curt Bailey stated that the site is still largely a blank canvas, aside from the coming University of Illinois Discovery Partners Institute, which represents an opportunity to create an entire neighborhood from the ground up with a casino already integrated from the beginning.

The proposal has faced a lot of opposition amid concerns by the community with local political opposition including residents of Chinatown.

Six years after opening, the casino would bring in an estimated $174.2 million - if the site includes a planned hotel and observation tower - in annual revenue to the city, according to a city analysis. That is the lowest projection of the three finalists.

Nosa Ehimwenman, CEO of Bowa Construction, argued the fact that his Black-owned firm will lead construction at the site showed the commitment of the team to Black and Brown Chicagoans.

After Mayor Lori Lightfoot selects a finalist, the winner will be evaluated by a new special City Council committee created last month. If approved, the proposal needs full City Council sign-off before being sent to the Illinois Gaming Board for its own review process.

The winner of the casino license is not expected for another two months.


See previous DataBid blog titled: New Details on the 5 Bids for Chicago Casinos

See previous DataBid blog titled: 5 Bids Received for Casino in Chicago

DataBid is currently reporting on this project - One Central Mega Development South Loop - Chicago  (0056042619)

DataBid is currently reporting on this project - The 78 Mixed Use Development South Loop - Chicago  (0058052516)


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Posted by Judy Lamelza

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