Chicago Narrows Down Casino Choices

Bally’s at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center, Rivers at The 78, and Hard Rock at the projected One Central megadevelopment have been chosen as the city’s three contenders for its first casino, according to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

For a Chicago casino, the city’s three remaining proposals may offer the route of least resistance. However, none of them have landed without raising some complaints or worries, which the city may have to address before narrowing the group down to a single preferred design, which officials expect to be completed by early summer. It would still need to be approved by the state.

What Led to These Being the Finalists?

The three finalists “best suit the basic objectives we want to accomplish for the City’s first integrated casino-resort,” Lightfoot said in a statement. Her administration “spent many hours researching each proposal for Chicago’s casino license.” Each plan seeks to improve Chicago’s economic, employment, and equality prospects while also enriching the city’s cultural, entertainment, and architectural scenes with world-class services and design.

After the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns the convention center complex, declared it was not interested in converting any of its buildings into a casino, the city rejected the two plans involving the McCormick Place property.

What Did the Plans Look Like?

A $1.3 billion Rivers Chicago McCormick offer to rehabilitate Lakeside Center, which developers hailed as a chance to reuse and restore the 50-year-old steel-and-glass exposition hall, was among the rejected ideas for what is believed to be Illinois’ biggest gambling institution. There are 235 events booked at McCormick Place that cannot be rescheduled without a substitute, according to the venue.

Bally’s $1.6 billion casino plan for the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yards, a 28-acre freight staging complex at 31st Street and Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive, was similarly rejected by the city. Not only did the planned location suffer resistance from surrounding Bronzeville residents, but McCormick Place also committed the land to another developer until 2023.

Bally’s final casino proposal includes an option to purchase the 30-acre Freedom Center printing plant site in River West, which was purchased in 2019 by Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group as part of its $4.1 billion purchase of Tribune Media — the former broadcast parent of Tribune Publishing — as part of its $4.1 billion purchase of Tribune Media — the former broadcast parent of Tribune Publishing.

A casino and hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, an outdoor music venue, and other attractions are included in the $1.74 billion offer. To make space for the casino, the 41-year-old Freedom Center printing factory will be demolished.

The Freedom Center lease for Tribune Publishing extends through June 2023, with a 10-year option to renew at market rates. That option now belongs to hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which bought Tribune Publishing for $633 million in May. Bally’s head of corporate development, Chris Jewett, claimed the casino business from Rhode Island had obtained an option to buy the site from Nexstar.

According to the city, if the project is approved, Bally’s aim is to construct a temporary casino on the site by the second quarter of 2023, with the permanent casino opening in the first quarter of 2026. Rush Street Gaming, located in Chicago and owner of four casinos, including Rivers Casino Des Plaines, collaborated on two unique projects, one of which is still in the works.

Rush Street Gaming, led by Chicago real estate developer Neil Bluhm, is proposing a $1.62 billion riverside casino at Related Midwest’s 62-acre megadevelopment, The 78, which would be built on the long-vacant property in the South Loop.

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