Chicago officials took another step Thursday toward making the long-planned Chicago casino a reality, asking firms interested in building and operating not just a casino but a casino-resort to make a formal proposal to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago City Council.
A permanent casino could open as soon as 2025 in Chicago, although slot machines could start ringing at O’Hare and Midway airports much sooner — with tentative plans for a temporary casino also in play.
Lightfoot’s wide-ranging plan calls for the casino to be one part of “a premier entertainment destination that will catalyze growth in our dynamic economy, create sustainable, good-paying jobs for our workforce and bring new financial opportunities to our businesses,” she said in a statement.
Proposals must include plans for a 500-room hotel, meeting space, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues to create “an entertainment and gaming destination to enhance the urban fabric of the surrounding neighborhood,” officials said.
City projections estimate that the casino will ring up $200 million in revenue for the city annually, which is already earmarked for Chicago’s underfunded police and fire pension funds.
The winning proposal — which also needs the approval of the Illinois Gaming Board — “will be able to incorporate its property into the city’s vibrant cultural scene, robust public transit infrastructure and highly diversified economy,” according to a statement from the mayor’s office.
In addition, whichever firm wins the right to build the casino must agree to set aside at least 26% of the construction contracts for firms owned Black and Latino Chicagoans, and another 6% for firms owned by Chicago women.
Half of all hours worked to build the casino must be performed by Chicagoans and 7.5% of the total time must be performed by residents “of the area surrounding the project in the construction of the project,” officials said.
However, that could present a quandary for Lightfoot, who will face pressure from South and West side aldermen who want a casino in their wards. A casino could mean hundreds of jobs in areas of the city that have long been passed over for both private and public investments.
In addition, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he’d rather not place a Chicago casino anywhere near McCormick Place or the city’s central business district, telling newspaper editorial boards in September 2019 that he’d like to see the casino developed in an area of Chicago that has not benefited from the pre-pandemic development boom downtown.
State lawmakers agreed to change the rules for a Chicago casino in spring 2019 after a study validated Lightfoot’s repeated warnings that a law giving the green light to a statewide gaming expansion would make it impossible for a Chicago casino to get off the ground.
The feasibility study determined that a Chicago casino would pay an effective tax rate of 72%, while the revised law has an effective tax rate of about 40%.
Proposals are due Aug. 23, and city officials scheduled public presentations of finalists in late September. A winner is not likely to be picked until early 2022, officials said.