Bally’s, Hard Rock, Rush Street finalists for Chicago casino license; two McCormick Place bids out after concerns

Chicago is now a little closer to opening its first casino after Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot‘s announcement Tuesday that the city has shortlisted three bidders to move to the next stage of the bidding process for the sole casino license.

Bally’s Corporation at the Tribune Site, Hard Rock at the ONE Central Siteand Rush Street Gaming’s Rivers 78 at the 78 site have been named finalists to develop a casino-resort and entertainment complex in Chicago. From this group, The City will choose a final proposal to submit as the developer and operator of the Chicago casino for approval by City Council.

This announcement leaves behind a second proposal from Bally’sfor the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard; and another one by Rush Street Gaming, Rivers Chicago in Lakeside Center at McCormick Place. In February, Larita Clark, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), which owns McCormick Place, Warning that the property was waiting for the city or the developers to talk with them in order to rethink any of its convention center facilities as a casino. She had expressed concerns about plans to turn McCormick Place’s truck yards, Lakeside Center or North Building into gambling palaces without providing alternative space for the functions they serve now. Any change in their use would disrupt operations and may cost Chicago convention bookings, she said.

Hard Rock’s proposal also included plans for a temporary casino in MPEA’s North
Building. “Given MPEA concerns around contiguous connections between convention and casino space, Hard Rock Chicago has expressed its willingness to explore the potential for locating a temporary casino facility within a hotel or an alternate locationthe final report released Tuesday says.

“We have spent countless hours analyzing each proposal for Chicago’s casino license and have determined Bally’s Tribune, Hard Rock Chicago, and Rivers 78 best fit the core goals we want to achieve for the City’s first integrated-resort,” Lightfoot said in a press release Tuesday. “Each proposal offers economic, employment, and equity-focused opportunities for Chicago, while simultaneously enhancing the City’s cultural, entertainment and architectural scenes with world-class amenities and design. Our teams look forward to heading into discussions with the finalists and getting one step closer to bringing this decades-long project to fruition.”

Chicago first declared intentions to develop a casino more than 30 years ago. In addition to creating thousands of jobs, the casino will generate approximately $400 million a year in gaming and other revenues for the City and the State of Illinois. The City government said the casino project will meaningfully support Chicago’s tourism industry, finances, job growth and economic development in addition to enhancing property values ​​in the surrounding area.

Bally’s Corporation – Tribune Site

Bally’s has proposed a $1.74 billion casino project and hotel on a portion of the current Tribune Publishing Plant. The proposal includes a 3,000-seat theater; an Immerse Agency exhibition experience, a sports museum; an extension of the Riverwalk; a pedestrian bridge; a 500-key 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 173 table games. The bidder has projected the development will add 9,750 construction jobs and 2,002 permanent casino jobs. Bally’s is slated to open a temporary casino in Q2 2023 with the permanent location anticipated for Q1 2026.

Hard Rock – ONE Central Site

The HR Chicago proposal includes the development of a $1.74 billion casino project on a portion of the site known as ONE Central, a large, proposed development north of the MPEA convention center on the lakefront. This proposal includes a 3,500-seat Hard Rock Live venue; a Hard Rock Music and Entertainment experience; a 500-room hotel tower; a “Rock” spa; rooftop space; outdoor green space; several restaurants, cafes, and a food hall; and six bars and lounges.

The casino will offer space for 3,000 slots and 166 table games. The bidder has projected the development will add 16,607 construction jobs and 3,140 permanent casino jobs. Hard Rock expects the temporary casino to open in Q2 2023, and the permanent casino in Q3 2025.

Rivers – 78

Led by billionaire Neil Bluhm‘s Rush Street Gaming, the Rivers 78 proposal includes the development of a $1.62 billion casino project on a portion of the site known as “The 78.” The 78 is a large development on the near south side of the City. The proposal a riverfront plaza; an observation tower with indoor and outdoor space; a Harbor Hall multi-purpose riverfront venue for live entertainment, culture, arts and community programs with rooftop space; a 300-room hotel tower; and eight restaurants, cafes, a food hall, five bars and lounges.

The casino includes space for 2,600 slots and 190 table games. The bidder has projected the development will add 3,410 to 4,375 construction jobs and 3,068 permanent casino jobs. Rivers plans to open a temporary casino on the 78 site in Q2 2024, and the permanent location in Q4 2025.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Each finalist and the City will participate in a community engagement meeting, offering the opportunity for public questions and comments. These meetings will take place April 5-7 from 6 pm – 8 pm CT and will be live-streamed:

  • April 5: Hard Rock at Harold Washington Library.
  • April 6: Bally’s Tribune at Tribune Publishing Plant.
  • April 7: Rivers 78 at Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum.

Following the community engagement meetings, the City will continue its discussions with each of the shortlisted teams. The community engagement and negotiations will provide the basis for the City’s selection of a winning team. The finalists will be evaluated with respect to the same core goals laid out in the initial RFP.

Once a finalist is selected, a comprehensive host community agreement memorializing the agreed-upon terms will be prepared. 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 City Council will be involved in the process for the final recommendation.

The formal development process will begin following City Council approval and approval from the Illinois Gaming Board, before the selected developer could set up a temporary casino while building a permanent facility.

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