Bally’s Corporation achieved the right to officially become the first casino operator to open a gaming facility in Chicago by virtue of a City Council vote Wednesday.
The operator beat out two other finalists — Rush Street Interactive and Hard Rock Interactive — in a more than six-month long contest to see who would build the first casino-resort inside the city limits.
The bid received the recommendation of Mayor Lori Lightfoot in early May, then was approved Wednesday by a 41-7 vote from the full city council.
Bally’s Chicago Casino at Tribune Publishing Center will be located near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, just west of the Chicago River’s north branch.
"I am proud to announce that Bally's Corporation will create a world-class entertainment district in our city that will delight residents and tourists alike," Lightfoot said when making her recommendation earlier this month. "Following significant analyses and community input on all aspects of our three finalists for Chicago's casino license, the selection committee and I have chosen Bally's to move forward in the development of the city's first integrated casino resort.”
Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim echoed Lightfoot’s sentiments in a company statement on Wednesday, calling the city’s casino decision a win-win for the Windy City.
“We would like to thank Mayor Lightfoot and the entire city of Chicago for choosing Bally’s to develop a $1.7 billion world-class gaming and entertainment destination,” Kim’s statement said. “This destination property will be built, owned, and operated by Chicagoans, with a focus on minority and women investors, contractors, suppliers, consultants, and employees. It will generate tax revenue, create good-paying jobs, and attract international, national, and local visitors for generations to come. We are extremely excited to develop this project with the people, by the people, and for the people of Chicago.”
How We Got to This Point
Bally’s was one of five groups to submit a bid to the city last November.
Bally’s, RSI’s Rivers 78 properties and Hard Rock’s bid were selected as the three finalists in March.
The city of Chicago has one casino license available, part of the state’s 2019 gambling legislation. In December, despite lobbying by Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm, Chicago repealed its ban on sports betting.
Bluhm had argued retail sportsbooks located at the city’s professional sports venues would damage the viability of a downtown casino.
In March, fully remote registration became legal for mobile Illinois sports betting.
Rush Street Gaming’s Rivers 78 proposed property was on Clark Street and Roosevelt Road along the South Loop.
Hard Rock would have built its gaming facility in conjunction with the One Central project, near the historic home of the Chicago Bears.
The two bids not among the three finalists were plans from RSI and Bally’s at the McCormick Place Convention Center.
What Was Said at Wednesday’s Council Hearing?
During Wednesday’s council meeting, City CFO Jennie Huang Bennett told the 48 aldermen that the city’s $1.7 billion deal with Bally’s was a well-thought-out plan that deserved their backing.
She said the Second City’s ability to add $40 million upfront in licensing fees from Bally’s would help put a dent in the city’s budget shortfall, while also providing jobs Chicagoans need.
“This has been a three-year-long process that the city has undertaken for the selection of the casino in the city of Chicago,” Huang Bennett said. “This is a generational opportunity, which the city has been working toward for 30 years.”
In previous council hearings, city officials have pegged the casino’s tax revenue at north of $200 million once Bally’s opens its temporary casino facility in 2023.
That facility, inside the former Medinah Temple complex on North Wabash Avenue that once housed a Bloomingdales department store, will serve as Bally’s casino facility until the permanent structure is completed in the first quarter of 2026.
On top of the $40 million the operator will fork over for a casino license, Bally’s will pay the city annual payments of $4 million after opening. The company projects to generate more than $800 million in gaming revenue annually, according to a company press release.