Bally’s said it plans to file an application for Chicago's first and sole casino with the Illinois Gaming Board by the end of the month. Chairman Soo Kim also said he feels “reasonably confident” Bally’s will secure that approval in time to launch its temporary casino within 12 months, by June 2023.
Late last month, the full Chicago City Council voted 41 to 7 to approve Bally's Corporation casino project — which defeated the other two finalists, Hard Rock and Rush Street Gaming— valued at $1.74 billion at the former Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant in River West, but that land has yet to be developed. According to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office, that's expected to take three years, with the projected opening date sometime in 2026. In the meantime, a proposed temporary casino site in River North at the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash in the 42nd Ward, could be up and running by Q2 2023. Bally’s made its promised $40 million upfront payment to Chicago earlier this month with the signing of a host community agreement.
“We’ll be ready to file by the end of the month, hopefully,” Kim told Chicago Tribune on Wednesday. This could present a challenging timeline for Bally's, considering that the most recent licensee was Hard Rock Casino Rockford, and it took 16 months for the company to get preliminary approval from the regulatory board and two years to open a temporary casino.
However, as the last of the six new casinos seeking approval, and the only one already licensed to operate in the state, the Illinois Gaming Board said the process might go a little faster for the Bally’s Chicago proposal.
In addition, there is ongoing opposition from neighbors and new questions about Tribune Publishing’s plans for its printing operations. According to the cited newspaper, Tribune Publishing said Thursday it is exercising an option to extend its printing plant lease, which is set to expire in June 2023, for another 10 years. At the same time, Tribune’s parent company, hedge fund Alden Global Capital, has purchased through a subsidiary a number of former Gannett printing facilities, and has a contract to buy the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s recently idled printing plant in West Milwaukee. Par Ridder, General Manager of the Chicago Tribune, said: "No decision has been made to move printing operations to Milwaukee.”
Also, Bally’s has an option to buy the printing plant site from Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group, the nation’s largest TV station owner, which acquired it in 2019 as part of its $4.1 billion purchase of Tribune Media — the former broadcast parent of Tribune Publishing. The plan requires demolishing the 41-year-old Freedom Center plant and relocating the Tribune printing operations to make way for building the permanent casino.
If Tribune Publishing and Nexstar can’t come to terms on the lease extension, the matter would go to arbitration, according to Chicago Tribune. Once Bally’s exercises its option and buys the site — pending regulatory approval — the casino company will become Tribune Publishing’s landlord. Bally’s will then have the right to relocate the Tribune if it can find a comparable site for printing operations.
The Chicago 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.