Bally’s, Rush Street, and Hard Rock Make Shortlist for First Chicago Casino

  • City officials plan to decide on a preferred applicant by early summer this year
  • The preferred proposal will also need City Council and Illinois regulatory approval
  • Each finalist plans to open a temporary casino while the permanent facility is constructed
  • Community engagement meetings will take place next month for each of the proposals
Chicago skyline
There are now just three proposals remaining in the race to build Chicago’s first-ever casino. [Image:]

Getting closer to a winner

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has whittled down the list of proposals in the race to build the city’s first casino. The mayor announced on Tuesday that she has selected three plans from the five bids, including proposals from Bally’s Corporation, Rush Street Gaming, and Hard Rock International. Each of the finalists has its own proposed development site in the city.

will still need approval from the City Council and the Illinois Gaming Control Board

City officials expect to choose their preferred recipient of the casino license by early summer. The chosen plan will still need approval from the City Council and the Illinois Gaming Control Board before it can go ahead.

In deciding on the three proposals, the mayor said that her administration spent endless hours analyzing each. She noted how each plan would provide a wide range of potential benefits for the city, affirming that the chosen applicants “best fit the core goals we want to achieve for the City’s first integrated casino-resort.”

The two unsuccessful proposals, both centered around the McCormick Place campus, came from Bally’s and Rush Street Gaming.

The three finalists

Bally’s remaining bid proposes a $1.74bn casino and hotel at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center. The firm plans to open a temporary casino by Q2 of next year if the bid is successful. The permanent casino would then open in the first months of 2026.  

The planned Chicago casino is set to be the largest gambling facility in Illinois. It will also have the highest tax rate in the state, valued at approximately 40% of adjusted gross revenue.

Rush Street Gaming’s Rivers 78 proposal would see a $1.62bn property developed at a long-vacant riverfront site in the South Loop. The operator plans to open a temporary casino in Q2 2024 and launch the permanent facility by the end of 2025.

The third finalist is Hard Rock International, which proposes a $1.74bn casino property at One Central. The site is part of a mixed-used mega-development project close to the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field home venue. The Florida-based Hard Rock would open a temporary casino in Q2 next year, with the plan to have the permanent casino ready to go in Q3 2025.

The long push for a Chicago casino

Advocates of a Chicago casino resort believe that the development would provide a financial boost to the long-struggling city. It would also represent a major victory for the mayor as she looks for re-election, the casino bill being one of her few legislative successes to date.

Many major casino companies decided not to pursue the license

Lawmakers gave the green light to a Chicago casino in 2020, something previous mayors had tried and failed to do. Many major casino companies decided not to pursue the license. Despite tax structure changes made by officials, the request for proposals still only attracted five bids from three gambling companies.

Next month, community engagement meetings will take place regarding the finalists’ proposals. The three meetings will take place on consecutive nights and will give the public the chance to ask questions and give feedback.

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