Defeat for Hard Rock and Rush Street

Chicago City chooses Bally's for its sole casino license

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Bally's Chairman led the announcement on Thursday.
2022-05-05
United States
Reading time 6:17 min

Following months of proposals, public hearings, and strong opposition from local residents and officials, Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot announced Thursday that the City has selected Bally’s Corporation to be the recipient of its sole casino license, and the developer to create a world-class casino-resort and entertainment experience in Chicago on the site of the Tribune Publishing Center. With the most lucrative proposal and upfront payments, Bally's defeated the other two finalists, Hard Rock and Rush Street Gaming, in the race for Chicago's first casino.

"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," said the Mayor, who headed a press conference to announce the selection along with Bally's Chairman Soo Kim. "We are confident that Bally's Tribune Publishing Center development will shore up the City's pension funds, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and lead to a bright financial future for our city."

On Tuesday, Lightfoot had said media reports that Bally's was chosen as the license winner were not accurate, as the special committee had not completed its work.

The proposal from Bally’s entails a $1.7 billion casino project and hotel on a portion of the current industrial Tribune Publishing Center. The casino will offer space for 3,400 slots and 170 table games. The complex also includes a 3,000-seat theater; an Immerse Agency exhibition experience; an extension of the Riverwalk; pedestrian bridge; a 500-room hotel tower; an outdoor park; an outdoor music venue; an amenity terrace featuring a large pool spa, fitness center and sun deck; and six restaurants, cafes and a food hall. Bally’s projected the development will add more than 3,000 construction jobs annually and 3,000 permanent casino jobs.

“We would like to thank Mayor Lightfoot and her office for conducting a tough, but fair, RFP process, and selecting Bally’s Chicago as the final bidder for the City’s casino,” Kim said. “Chicago is a unique and vibrant city, deserving of world-class gaming and entertainment destination that is of, by, and for the people by driving the local economy, supporting local labor, creating multigenerational wealth for minority investors, and showcasing the best of what the City has to offer. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Mayor Lightfoot, and all of our valued community partners on this exciting endeavor.”

The City selected Bally’s Corporation Tribune proposal as it met or exceeded core goals outlined by the casino selection committee. Bally’s offered the strongest overall financial offer to the City, with a $40 million upfront payment at the time of the signing of the Host Community Agreement along with $4 million annually per year thereafter. Bally's has also provided the highest minimum capital commitment to the project, and is the only submitting operator that did not have a competing casino in the Chicagoland region. 

In addition, Bally’s has completed an agreement with organized labor, which the City deems necessary for this process to move forward. Bally’s will commit to 60% minority hiring and will create a jobs program specifically targeting neighborhoods with the highest levels of unemployment and lowest income. The jobs program also will include clear career pathways for upward mobility. 

See Chicago City's full recommendation report here.

“We are excited this casino will be built and staffed by skilled union members,” said Chicago Federation of Labor Bob Reiter. “It’s the working-class people of Chicago who make this a world-class city, and it’s the working-class people of Chicago who will make this a world-class casino. We look forward to partnering with the city, Bally’s, and our affiliate unions on this historic project.”

"Today, hundreds of bartenders and servers, housekeepers and cooks, baristas and bellmen and bussers will have a shot at a good job at Bally’s Chicago casino," said Karen Kent, President of UNITE HERE Local 1. "Thank you to Mayor Lightfoot and members of the Chicago City Council for supporting working people through this process."

Furthermore, Bally’s has provided a proposal concerning equity through a crowdfunding initiative, which includes the ability for small investors to leverage up their investment with non-recourse debt. The casino also will create opportunities for small, local restaurants and businesses to have business opportunities in the casino.

Bally’s will be purchasing the entire Tribune site and is, therefore, flexible in how the other parcels within this planned development can be redeveloped; the company has committed to take input from the community for these pieces.

The company anticipates operating a temporary casino at the Medinah Temple, slated to open in Q2 2023. This was chosen due to its proximity to major transit and retail/hospitality corridors, as well as its ability to assist in the City’s post-Covid revitalization. The permanent location is anticipated for Q1 2026. 

“North Branch Works welcomes Bally’s Casino and appreciates the 2,000 permanent jobs the project will create,” said North Branch Works Executive Director Jonathan Snyder. “We applaud Bally’s commitment to hiring locally and for going above and beyond the minimum requirements for M/WBE participation. We look forward to working with the administration, Alderman Walter Burnett, and the team at Bally’s to ensure the new development integrates into the North Branch Industrial Corridor and surrounding communities.”

“A Chicago casino will provide a real boost to the City's revenues by $200 million to support police and fire pension funds as well as to the State's revenues by $200 million to support capital improvement projects statewide,” said Illinois Municipal League Executive Director Brad Cole. “Even more importantly, the casino will create thousands of new jobs and repatriate gaming revenues going to fund Indiana essential services.  This is clearly an important project for both the City and the State.”

Now that Bally’s Corporation has been selected, a comprehensive host community agreement memorializing the agreed upon terms will be negotiated. The host community agreement will then be evaluated by an Aldermanic special committee. The committee will consist of all the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of City Council Committees as well as President Pro Tempore Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward. The Special Committee will be chaired by Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, and vice-chaired by Alderman Jason Ervin, 28th Ward. All of the City Council will be involved in the process for the final recommendation.

The formal development process will begin following approval from the City Council and the Illinois Gaming Board.

“I am proud to support the forthcoming Bally’s Chicago casino here in the 27th Ward,” said Alderman Walter Burnett, 27th Ward. “It will be a world class entertainment destination that provides jobs, boost tourism numbers and brings a host of incredible amenities into the 27th ward. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city of Chicago and it will be a premier destination for generations to come.”

“This casino will exemplify Mayor Lightfoot’s commitment to economic recovery and prosperity for the city of Chicago and its residents,” said Alderman Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward. “It has been a long time coming that the city sees a casino and I support her pick for the casino as it will bring in so many opportunities for minority-owned businesses, good-paying jobs, and cement Chicago as a world-class tourist destination.”

The City of Chicago first declared intentions to develop a casino more than 30 years ago. Original legislation for the casino license passed in Springfield in May of 2019 and months later the City fielded public interest in a Chicago casino with a survey that revealed favorable responses. The City then identified tax rates were too high and Union Gaming conducted a feasibility study in August 2019 that determined at the current rate, a casino would not be feasible in the city. The City earned an amended tax structure in May 2020 and Union Gaming announced via a whitepaper in August 2020 that under the amended tax structure, a Chicago casino was an operationally and financially feasible option. With the pandemic impacting much of the gaming industry, the City issued a request for information (RFI) which led to 11 responses from interested potential bidders.

In April of 2021, the City issued the official requests for proposals (RFP). The RFP closed in October and resulted in five proposals from four bidders. In March of 2022, following a complete evaluation report and community presentations in December, the City narrowed the bids to three finalists. In April 2022, the finalists held community engagement with each of the bidders, where all three of them met opposition from local residents, which has been echoed by local aldermen. Concerns around all projects were similar. Area residents and businesses are worried about crime, traffic congestion, gambling addiction and fear that a mega-casino and entertainment complex will destroy the character of their neighborhoods and maybe even hurt local businesses. 

The City will host a community engagement event at UIC Forum, 725 W Roosevelt Road on May 12, 2022 from 7PM - 9PM. The public can register to attend beginning May 5, 2022 at 11AM on the registration page.

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