3 Firms Bid to Build a Casino-Resort in Chicago: Officials

Video: Amanda Vinicky details the next steps for a Chicago casino.

Three firms want to build a casino and resort in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced Friday.

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Rush Street Gaming, led by Chicago billionaire and Rivers Casino Des Plaines operator Neil Bluhm, submitted two separate bids — one for a casino and resort at McCormick Place and the other south of the Loop on vacant land between the South Loop and Chinatown along the Chicago River set to be redeveloped by Related Midwest as The 78.

Bally’s Corp. also submitted proposals for two different locations for the casino-resorts, while the Hard Rock Casino submitted a single proposal for a casino and resort.

All five proposals are of a “high-caliber,” Lightfoot said in a statement released by the mayor’s office.

“The submission of bid responses represents a major step toward the thoughtful development of a casino-resort that uplifts our businesses, employs and empowers our residents and encourages tourism,” Lightfoot said.

The proposals will be reviewed by a committee made up of representatives of several city departments, which will make a recommendation to Lightfoot.

The Chicago City Council must approve all plans for the casino, along with state gaming officials.

A 2019 feasibility study recommended that Chicago build a casino “in a tourist-centric location that also enjoys, if possible, decent access to the local population.”

Bally’s envisions building a $1.6 billion complex at either the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center, at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, or the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard, according to a statement from the firm.

Lightfoot is likely to 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 recent development boom downtown.

With his close ties to Chicago’s political and economic leaders, Bluhm has long been perceived as the front-runner in the high-stakes craps game that will determine the future of Chicago’s casino.

Lightfoot attended law school at the University of Chicago with Bluhm’s daughter Leslie Bluhm, and they remain close friends.

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 asked firms to submit proposals for “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.”

Proposals had to 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.”

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.

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.

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%.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

Note: This story was originally published Oct. 29. It has been updated.

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