Five Proposals Land on Mayor Lightfoot’s Desk for First Downtown Casino in Chicago

  • Chicago has five bidders hoping to own and operate the city’s first downtown casino
  • Bally’s, Rush Street have each submitted two RFPs, with Hard Rock’s making it five
  • Bally’s wants to develop its $1.6bn Bally’s Chicago casino as the brand’s flagship
  • Next, officials will form a review committee to decide on one of the five bidders
  • Lightfoot will have the last word on which bidder is put up for City Council approval
Chicago skyline
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her office was “thrilled to have received five high-caliber proposals” for the city’s first downtown integrated casino resort. [Image:]

Five to choose from

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to extend the deadline for bidders interested in owning and operating the city’s first downtown integrated casino resort has reaped dividends. Five proposals have now landed on the mayor’s desk.

Lightfoot has retweeted an October 29 update from her deputy director of communications Ryan Johnson stating that Bally’s Corporation; HR Chicago; Rivers Chicago at McCormick; and Rivers 78 Gaming, have all submitted proposals.

HR Chicago has teamed up with Hard Rock International for its proposal, while Rivers Chicago and Rivers 78 Gaming have both proposed a Rush Street Gaming-run project. The remaining two RFPs — and perhaps the headline-stealers — both came from Bally’s Corporation.

The five proposals from four development groups represent a triumph for Lightfoot’s office after disinterest in the highly-taxed casino project prompted her to extend the initial deadline in August. Lightfoot described her office as “thrilled to have received five high-caliber proposals.” 

Bally’s billions v Bluhm’s backyard

After Lightfoot extended the casino project’s Request for Proposals (RFP), it seemed likely that Chicago casino bigwig Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming might find itself the sole applicant. All that has now changed, however, with gaming giants Hard Rock and Bally’s among those in the final mix.

“committing to make a $1.6bn investment in establishing Bally’s Chicago as our flagship.”

The RFP of Rhode Island-based Bally’s is particularly bullish. According to chair Soo Kim, his firm is “committing to make a $1.6bn investment in establishing Bally’s Chicago as our flagship.”

Since buying the Bally’s name from Caesars and rebranding Twin River Worldwide Holdings in late 2020, Bally’s has made several other significant changes. In July, it rebranded three of its Colorado casino properties as Bally’s Black Hawk. Last month, it also renamed the Jumer’s Casino in Rock Island, Illinois as Bally’s Quad Cities Casino & Hotel.

The proposed Bally’s Chicago is a two-phase project. The initial $1bn stage will involve the addition of 2,700 slot machines, 95 table games, a 100-all suite hotel, an outdoor music venue, green space, and dining. Phase two entails a $600m investment top-up, resulting in up to 4,000 total gaming positions, a 400-room hotel tower, an amenity terrace, a 3,000-seater entertainment venue, and a 20,000-square-foot exhibition space slated to host a Chicago sports museum.

In addition, Bally’s aims to utilize some of the available 4,000 gaming positions at the O’Hare and Midway airports in Chicago. Bally’s underscored this airport strategy by stating “properly marketed, the airport visitation will capture incremental customers for Bally’s Chicago and generate additional tax revenue for the city.”

A Bally’s press release said minority investors in its Chicago plans have a total stake of 25%, with backers including “philanthropists, business owners, sports stars, celebrities, and everyday Chicagoans.”

What happens next?

According to Lightfoot’s office, officials will create “a review committee made up of a cross-section of City departments” to put forward a bidder. Lightfoot will decide who the government proposes for City Council approval. Meanwhile, the Illinois Gaming Board has the final say on issuing a license.

Bluhm’s success in operating Illinois’ most lucrative gambling establishment, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines — plus the fact Lightfoot has received over $200,000 in campaign funds from the Bluhm family — gives the Rush Street bid for the integrated resort a significant home-field advantage.

Lightfoot said she expects the finished casino to open by 2025, although the bid-winning operator can open up a temporary site upon receiving state approval.

For now, Lightfoot can savor a “major step toward the thoughtful development” of the casino resort. “We look forward to the next phase of discussions” the mayor added.

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