hicago city officials will issue a “request for proposals” to build a casino resort on Thursday, with a submission deadline of August 23. The city plans to start developing its first gambling property by early next year with a 2025 opening date.
The city will award one casino license, which would enable construction of a resort at a location determined by the winning applicant. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she hopes casino-resort companies based in Las Vegas would consider submitting proposals for consideration.
The city is enabling the license holder to operate a temporary casino for up to 24 months, subject to a 12-month extension, to generate revenue before the completed resort’s opening date. Under the Illinois Gambling Act, approved last year by the state Legislature, the winning vendor will be able to operate slot machines at the city’s two major airports, O’Hare and Midway international airports, but the number of slots between the two airports and the new resort will be limited to 4,000 total.
In soliciting proposals Thursday, Lightfoot’s office also released its most thorough timeline yet for the city’s selection process. Developers have until Aug. 23 to submit proposals, and will make public presentations in late September, according to the mayor’s office. Lightfoot’s office will pick “one or more qualified applicants” and, through the end of the year, hold community meetings and negotiate “host community agreements” with those potential developers.
Then, early next year, the mayor’s office will select a final applicant to put up for approval from several city agencies and ultimately the City Council. After that, the chosen developer would apply for Gaming Board approval.
Among other requirements, Lightfoot wants developers to commit to at least 26% minority business enterprise participation and 6% for women-owned businesses, with 50% of work hours set aside for city residents.
As for the structure itself, the city wants to see “a high-quality, architecturally significant design” that fits “seamlessly into Chicago’s existing landscape and communities.”
“It’s not just building a box but building a real world-class entertainment destination,” Lightfoot said Tuesday, previewing the city’s request for casino bids in a virtual news conference. “We want to make sure that who we partner with is serious about Chicago and understands the unique opportunities that are here. As I said before, we’re excited that we’ve attracted the interest of very serious and accomplished gaming interests from Las Vegas. Come one, come all.”
“A big part of the issue is making sure that the Illinois Gaming Board really puts in the time and resources that are necessary,” Lightfoot said, as reported by Chicago Sun-Times. “Once we present a proposal to them, we’ve got to move forward expeditiously. And again, I don’t want to prejudge it, but I’m looking at the time, like the time it takes for the Gaming Board to do its work — it’s got to speed up.”
That’s been the complaint of leaders in some of the five other municipalities that were granted new casino licenses as part of a massive gambling expansion signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in the summer of 2019. Seventeen months and counting since the other casino applicants submitted bids to the board, just one project has gotten off the ground, and that was only after months of public prodding from Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.
Chicago’s casino is already months behind the state’s other bids because Lightfoot’s team had to go back to Springfield last spring to push a legislative fix lowering the gaming tax rate that a state-hired consultant deemed “too onerous” to attract any developers.
Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter has pinned licensing delays on the COVID-19 pandemic and said during a meeting Wednesday that his agency “has been and will continue to studiously follow the rules and requirements for the new casino licensing process.”
“This is 30 years of futility finally coming to fruition, so it’s an exciting moment for us and I want to move forward as expeditiously as we can,” Lightfoot said. “I’m confident that we’ll work with the governor and his team to emphasize we’ve got to bring this casino online as quickly as possible. We’ve done our hard work, we’re gonna continue to do that hard work, and we can’t have unnecessary regulatory delays slowing us down.”
Lightfoot said Chicago is the largest metropolitan area without a casino resort, noting that resorts operate in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and suburban Washington, D.C.
She said the Chicago casino project is one of the country’s most attractive development opportunities because the metropolitan area has about 9.5 million residents, and Chicago, in 2019, attracted 60 million domestic visitors and 1.5 million international visitors. She expects the eventual gaming operator to be able to incorporate its property into the city’s cultural scene, public transit infrastructure and diversified economy. A decision hasn’t been reached on where the casino resort would be built.
Since early March when the RFP process was first announced, analysts have contemplated which casino companies might be interested in submitting a proposal. The list begins with three casino companies that were among those that responded to Chicago’s request for information to establish the content of the RFP. Those included Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts Ltd. The third was the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock International in Florida.