Chicago Begins RFP Process for Downtown Casino Resort Expected to Open in 2025

  • The city is publishing its RFP for the downtown casino project on its website on Thursday
  • The resort will feature a casino, 500 hotel rooms, convention space, and restaurants
  • Mayor Lightfoot has expressed hope for applications from Las Vegas-based operators
  • The license holder will offer up to 4,000 games in total, including slots at city airports
  • RFP requirements include the use of Chicago businesses and creation of jobs for residents
Downtown Chicago skyline
An RFP process for a downtown Chicago casino begins Thursday, with the chosen operator expected to open the resort in 2025. [Image:]

Plans set in motion

Despite representing the third-largest metropolitan area in the US, Chicago is not currently home to a brick-and-mortar casino. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials are planning to change that with a new downtown resort development.

chosen company will construct a resort at a Chicago location of their choice

The process for selecting an operator for the casino development begins Thursday. The city is publishing a request for proposals (RFP) on its website, with submissions accepted until August 23. The chosen company will later construct the Chicago resort at a location of their choice.

The resort itself will include a casino, up to 500 hotel rooms, convention space, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. Other than this, would-be operators have free rein to provide their vision for the location and its facilities through the RFP process.

Mayor Lightfoot’s chosen plan will go to the City Council and gambling regulator for approval. After a series of negotiations, the city plans to award the contract by early next year, with the permanent casino opening date currently set for 2025.

Lightfoot’s vegas-style vision

Lightfoot is bullish about her plans for the city’s casino project. Speaking during a virtual press conference on Tuesday, the mayor said she expects high levels of interest among casino operators, urging them to employ innovation and creativity in their proposals.

We want to make sure that who we partner with is serious about Chicago”

“It’s not just building a box but building a real world-class entertainment destination,” Mayor Lightfoot explained. “We want to make sure that who we partner with is serious about Chicago and understands the unique opportunities that are here.”

Lightfoot has previously noted the city’s high potential for casino gambling, boasting a population of 9.5 million and substantial numbers of domestic and international travel. As a result, she has expressed hope that Las Vegas-based gaming brands might respond to the RFP, telling reporters last month she would be “very excited” if certain operators applied.

Aligning with Lightfoot’s vision, the development has already generated interest among high-profile casino companies. MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and Hard Rock International all responded during a request for information process last year. Other interested parties included Rush Street Gaming, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, and Related Midwest.

What is on offer?

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker approved Chicago’s casino resort development in June 2019 as part of a $45bn infrastructure plan. The initiative, named Rebuild Illinois, paved the way for Chicago to build one downtown casino resort, in addition to five casino properties in its suburbs.

the chosen operator can offer up to a total of 4,000 games

The plan also permits Chicago’s casino resort operator to set up slot machine gaming at Chicago Midway International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International – the city’s two major airports. Combined between the three locations, the chosen operator can offer up to a total of 4,000 games, including slot machines and table games.

Additionally, the selected license holder can operate a temporary casino for up to 24 months prior to the casino opening, with the option for an additional 12-month extension after this point. This will allow the operator to earn profit while the venue is still under construction.

The RFP requirements

Chicago has revealed a number of requirements for potential licensees, partly focused on the resort’s economic benefit to the city and its residents. The development must create jobs and generate tax revenue for the city, with these funds going towards police and fire department pensions. 

After the Illinois legislature’s approval of Senate Bill 516 last year, the state’s casinos are now subject to a tax rate of 40%. Previously, Illinois had the highest gaming tax in the US at 72%.

The license holder must also support Chicago-based businesses, particularly those owned by minorities and women. The requirements include 26% minority business enterprise participation and 6% women business enterprise participation. The operator must also hire Chicago businesses to help with the design and construction of the project.

Finally, the resort itself must integrate into Chicago’s existing landscape, with Mayor Lightfoot set to assess location suggestions during the RFP process. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, prospective areas include the Lake Michigan waterfront, plus sports located near the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field stadium and close to the McCormick Place convention center.

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