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: Chicago picks Bally’s and riverfront location for $1.7 billion–plus in-town casino


Chicago has picked Bally’s

to develop and operate the city’s first in-town casino, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced late Thursday, saying Bally’s was alone among the rival bidders in having secured an agreement with organized labor and had made the strongest financial offer to the city, including an upfront payment of $40 million.

The $1.7 billion–plus casino, comprising a 500-room hotel, entertainment and dining offerings, and public spaces including a riverwalk extension and a two-acre park, alongside its planned 3,400 slots and 170 table games, is expected to be located just northwest of the Loop business district along the Chicago River in the River West section of the city, near the rapidly transforming Goose Island and the booming Fulton Market district. Its site has been home since the early 1980s to the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant.

The Chicago Sun-Times observed that the massive project marks a departure for Bally’s, which has tended to acquire rather than develop its gaming locations and operates no casino on the scale of the planned Chicago casino. Bally’s has said it forecasts some 4.5 million annual visitors.

The company has said it would open a temporary gaming facility as soon as 2023 with the permanent location — dubbed Tribune Project in the company’s pitch materials — slated for a 2026 opening. Bally’s has said the temporary venue, for which it hopes to deploy a retrofitted building adjacent to the permanent casino (while the city favors another location), would include 500 slots, 25 table games, and food and beverage offerings.

Bally’s has also suggested it hopes to allocate some of its allowed gambling positions to Chicago’s two main airports.

Construction at the Freedom Center site, Bally’s has said, will be led by the Chicago Community Builder’s Collective, a partnership consisting primarily of minority-owned firms.

Lightfoot said Bally’s, whose brand name dates to the 1930s in Chicago (but, as the Chicago Tribune noted on Sunday, only recently was adjoined to the casino company formerly known as Twin River Holdings), is committed to creating 3,000 permanent jobs at the casino as well as 3,000 jobs per year during construction.

Fellow finalists alongside Providence, R.I.–based Bally’s were bids from Hard Rock International and locally based Rush Street Gaming, which operates Rivers Casino in suburban Des Plaines, Ill., as well as facilities in Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; and Schenectady, N.Y. Five formal bids were reportedly submitted for a project that has been decades in the making.

Sites proposed by the other bidders included a retrofitted portion of McCormick Place, an enormous complex on the lakefront that hosts most of the largest conventions held in Chicago; a brown-field site south of the Loop called the 78; and a proposed land area that would be created by capping train tracks and roadways just west of Soldier Field.

From the archives (February 2012): Chicago set to join New York in casino gamble: Windy City design forum looks beyond ‘if’ to what and where

Bally’s owns and operates 14 casinos across 10 states, plus a horse track in Colorado.

Bally’s in Chicago is set to become the 11th casino legally operating in Illinois since the 1990 passage of the Riverboat Gambling Act. The Rivers facility, in northwest suburban Chicago near O’Hare International Airport, became in 2019 the state’s first land-based casino.

The state is said to tax casinos at the highest rate among U.S. states.

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