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Illinois casino

Chicago is finally moving forward with its long-awaited plans to build the city’s first-ever casino.

Seth Perlman

City Releases Developers’ Pitches For Chicago’s First-Ever Casino

Some well-known Las Vegas heavyweights are among nearly a dozen developers and casino operators pitching their preliminary ideas for what the city’s first and only casino could look like in the post-pandemic world.

In documents released Wednesday, the potential operators claim COVID-19 will have “no or minimal impact” on the development timeline the city has laid out for the project, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office.

Earlier this summer, the Lightfoot administration put out a request for information seeking bids on what potential casino operators envision for the development, including on-site amenities like hotels, retail stores and other entertainment offerings.

On Wednesday, the mayor’s office released a summary of those responses.

“[We] are not only one step closer to bringing the long-awaited Chicago casino to life, but have the critical information we need to ensure this project will be a success,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

The respondents are a mix of major gaming operators, local and national developers and a community group: Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, Christiansen Capital Advisors, Development Management Associates, Hard Rock International, JDL, MGM Resorts International, MGM Growth Properties, R2 Companies, Rush Street Gaming and Related Midwest, and Wynn Resorts.

Most of the respondents prefer locating a casino in or around downtown, as well as locating a potential temporary casino in a different spot while the permanent complex is being built.

One firm suggested the casino be located on the far Southeast Side, by the Harborside Golf Course and Lake Calumet River. Another suggested the temporary casino be located at Navy Pier.

The issue of where to locate the casino has been a topic for debate in recent years. Some developers have favored a location downtown, to attract tourists, while some politicians have said it should go to the South or West Side, so residents there could reap the economic benefits it could bring.

Still, Chicagoans have also voiced concerns about the social cost of having a huge gambling establishment in their neighborhoods.

The potential casino operators were split when it came to the issue of who should determine the final location — the city or the developer. All agreed that ancillary amenities — like retail and entertainment venues — should be part of the development.

Even with proposed construction timelines of two to three years, COVID-19-related precautions would have to be part of the final design plan, respondents told the city.

This could mean contactless check-in, special air filtration systems, thermal imaging, increased outdoor space to allow for social distancing and special furniture coating for sanitizing commonly-used surfaces.

A formal Request for Proposals is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2021 pending progress on the coronavirus pandemic, the mayor’s office said.

Though casino gambling has been legal in Illinois for decades, many Chicago mayors have tried and failed to expand gaming in Chicago.

State lawmakers amended Illinois’ Gambling Act in May to lower the effective tax rate the casino operator would have to pay for the privilege of holding the sole Chicago-based license. That legislative change followed an independent consultant report that characterized the layered tax and fee structure imposed by the city and state too “onerous” for potential investors.

The city would use revenue from the Chicago casino to shore up its severely underfunded pension funds for retired workers.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow @ClaudiaMorell

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