Chicago’s new casino: and the winner is
CHICAGO —Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot announced today that the City has selected Bally’s Corporation to be the recipient of its sole casino license and the developer to create a world-class casino-resort and entertainment experience in Chicago on the site of the Tribune Publishing Center.
Not the best kept secret
For over a week word has been leaking through the media that the Bali project would be selected as the site of the new casino. Well the mayor denied this until today when he said: “I am proud to announce that Bally’s Corporation will create a world-class entertainment district in our city that will delight residents and tourists alike, she continues, “Following significant analyses and community input on all aspects of our three finalists for Chicago’s casino license, the selection committee and I have chosen Bally’s to move forward in the development of the City’s first integrated casino resort. We are confident that Bally’s Tribune Publishing Center development will shore up the City’s pension funds, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and lead to a bright financial future for our city.”
A closer look at the proposal
The proposal from Bally’s entails a $1.7 billion casino project and hotel on a portion of the current industrial Tribune Publishing Center. This includes a 3,000-seat theater; an Immerse Agency exhibition experience; an extension of the Riverwalk; pedestrian bridge; a 500-room hotel tower; an outdoor park; an outdoor music venue; an amenity terrace featuring a large pool spa, fitness center and sun deck; and six restaurants, cafes and a food hall. The casino will offer space for 3,400 slots and 170 table games. Bally’s Corporation projected the development will add more than 3,000 construction jobs annually and 3,000 permanent casino jobs.
Economic and Financial Benefits to the City: Bally’s offered the strongest overall financial offer to the City. Bally’s provided a $40 million upfront payment at the time of the signing of the Host Community Agreement along with $4 million annually per year thereafter. Bally’s has also provided the highest minimum capital commitment to the project, and is the only submitting operator that did not have a competing casino in the Chicagoland region. Job Creation: Bally’s has completed an agreement with organized labor, which the City deems necessary for this process to move forward. Bally’s will commit to 60% minority hiring and will create a jobs program specifically targeting neighborhoods with the highest levels of unemployment and lowest income. The jobs program also will include clear career pathways for upward mobility. Equity: Bally’s has provided a unique proposal concerning equity through a crowdfunding initiative, which includes the ability for small investors to leverage up their investment with non-recourse debt. The casino also will create opportunities for small, local restaurants and businesses to have business opportunities in the casino. Design, Planning, Amenities, and Transportation: The casino is proposed on a site that sits within an important land-use transition zone, with several large-scale existing industrial and commercial uses nearby that will continue to provide critical services to the City. Site: Bally’s will be purchasing the entire Tribune site and is, therefore, flexible in how the other parcels within this planned development can be redeveloped; the company has committed to take input from the community for these pieces. Temporary Casino: Bally’s anticipates operating a temporary casino at the Medinah Temple. This was chosen due to its proximity to major transit and retail/hospitality corridors, as well as its ability to assist in the City’s post-Covid revitalization.
Now that Bally’s Corporation has been selected, a comprehensive host community agreement memorializing the agreed upon terms will be negotiated. The host community agreement will then be evaluated by an Aldermanic special committee. The committee will consist of all the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of City Council Committees as well as President Pro Tempore Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward. The Special Committee will be chaired by Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, and vice-chaired by Alderman Jason Ervin, 28th Ward. All of the City Council will be involved in the process for the final recommendation.
On May 9 there will be a subject matter hearing for the special committee to ask questions about the selected finalist. The City will host a community engagement event at UIC Forum, 725 W Roosevelt Road on May 12, 2022 from 7PM – 9PM. The public can register to attend beginning May 5, 2022 at 11AM on the registration page
A Long Time Coming
The City of Chicago first declared intentions to develop a casino more than 30 years ago. Original legislation for the casino license passed in Springfield in May of 2019 and months later the City fielded public interest in a Chicago casino with a survey that revealed favorable responses. The City then identified tax rates were too high and Union Gaming conducted a feasibility study in August 2019 that determined at the current rate, a casino would not be feasible in the city. The City earned an amended tax structure in May 2020 and Union Gaming announced via a whitepaper in August 2020 that under the amended tax structure, a Chicago casino was an operationally and financially feasible option. With the pandemic impacting much of the gaming industry, the City issued a request for information (RFI) which led to 11 responses from interested potential bidders.
In April of 2021, the City issued the official requests for proposals (RFP). The RFP closed in October and resulted in five proposals from four bidders. In March of 2022, following a complete evaluation report and community presentations in December, the City narrowed the bids to three finalists. In April 2022, the finalists held community engagement with each of the bidders, and following further evaluation, on May 5, Bally’s Corporation at Tribune Publishing Center was selected as the recipient of the City’s sole casino license. .
The location of the proposed casino at Halsted and Chicago Avenue in the former Chicago Tribune Freedom Center promises to be an exciting extension to Chicago Riverwalk creating a one of a kind entertainment center.
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Carole Kuhrt Brewer
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