Chicago casino bids get narrowed to three options

A dealer distributes cards to gamblers at Resorts World Las Vegas in Las Vegas. Chicago officials have narrowed a list of bidders for a new casino to three. John Locher / Associated Press, File Photo
A dealer distributes cards to gamblers at Resorts World Las Vegas in Las Vegas. Chicago officials have narrowed a list of bidders for a new casino to three. John Locher / Associated Press, File Photo

Chicago casino bids get narrowed to three options

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The city of Chicago is moving a step closer to selecting a site for its long-anticipated casino and resort, as officials announced Tuesday they’ve narrowed down the applicant pool from five to three proposals.

Three finalists include: a site from Bally’s Corporation at the Tribune Publishing Center, a site from Hard Rock just west of Soldier Field and a site from Rush Street Gaming on the north end of the South Loop megadevelopment known as the 78.

Proposals for two sites at different locations around McCormick Place were rejected.

The shortlist comes after Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration had previously said it would select a final applicant for City Council approval by “early 2022.” Now, that timeline is pushed back slightly, with the city aiming to choose a final applicant by “early summer,” Jennie Bennett, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, said Tuesday.

“So the reason for that is because community engagement is an important part of really most any process the city does,” she said. “If we had selected one, and selected it without that engagement, it wouldn’t have been an authentic engagement.”

In early April, the city plans to hold one, two-hour community meeting for each of the proposals before moving forward with selecting a final applicant, according to a press release, followed by “further community engagement” once a finalist is selected.

Development would start after a committee of Chicago aldermen approve a community agreement with the host community, the agreement and site gets full City Council approval, and then approval at the state level from the Illinois Gaming Board.

Bennett emphasized key factors in selecting the shortlist of applicants, including the speed with which the applicant can open the casino, and how much money they’ll rake in for the city depending on its location.

“Time is of the essence to us,” Bennett said. “The city has been pursuing the casino for 30 years … We lose, as a city, about $200 million a year for every year that the casino isn’t open. So speed to execution is extremely important to us.”

The city evaluated and summarized those factors in a report on the five proposals, also released Tuesday.

That report shows that Bally’s Tribune, with a 500-room hotel, would rake in the most revenue for the city at about $191 million dollars annually. Proposals range from that figure on the high end, to $146 million in annual revenue on the low end.

According to the report, applicants anticipate opening a temporary casino as early as April 2023. A permanent casino, according to the Hard Rock team, could come as early as July 2025, though the city indicates in its report that timeline is unrealistic.

Here’s more on the applicant shortlist, and a link to the city’s evaluation report.

Hard Rock — ONE Central development site, west of Soldier Field

Hard Rock wants to build a casino with 3,000 slot machines and 166 table games. It would be located at the so-called ONE Central development site, which would sit on 32 acres of rail yards west of Soldier Field.

The total cost of the resort would be approximately $1.7 billion. It would include a hotel with “up to” 500 rooms, six bars and lounges, a 3,500-seat “Hard Rock Live” venue, a “rock spa” and eight restaurants.

Hard Rock would open a temporary casino by the second quarter of 2023 – though the city stipulates that might be unrealistic – and plans to open a permanent one by the third quarter of 2025.

Rush Street Gaming, Rivers 78 — north end of South Loop megadevelopment

Rush Street Gaming wants to open a casino along the planned megadevelopment on the Chicago River in the South Loop, dubbed “The 78.” Currently, an innovation hub led by the University of Illinois at Chicago is planned for the south end of that site. The casino resort would dominate the other half.

It would cost $1.6 billion, according to the city, and include 2,600 slots with nearly 200 table games. Also included: a 300-room hotel, five bars, eight restaurants, an observation tower and “Harbor Hall” — a proposed riverfront venue for “live entertainment, culture/arts and community programs.”

Developers pitch opening a temporary casino by mid-2024 and a permanent one by the end of 2025.

Bally’s Corporation — Tribune Publishing Center

Bally’s proposes building a $1.74 billion casino resort at the publishing site and newsroom of the Chicago Tribune, whose lease expires in 2023.

It would include a 500-room hotel — a priority the city outlined in its request for proposals. The site would also have six restaurants, cafes, a food hall, three bars and a 3,000-seat theater. The casino would be filled with 3,400 slot machines and 173 table games, according to its proposal.

The developer says it would open a temporary site by the second quarter of 2023, and a permanent one in early 2026.

Bally’s submitted a nearly identical proposal, at a cost of $1.6 billion, with a different location — on a plot of land south of McCormick Place known as Truck Marshaling Yard, which was rejected.

Planned community meetings for each site, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. and will also be livestreamed, according to the city:

April 5: Hard Rock

Harold Washington Library

400 S. State Street

April 6: Bally’s Tribune

Tribune Publishing Plant

700 W. Chicago

April 7: Rivers 78

Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum

725 W. Roosevelt Road

Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.