More than three decades in the making, legalized gambling will make its Chicago debut at 8 a.m. Saturday morning when Bally’s opens a temporary casino in River North’s Medinah Temple.
Chicagoans and tourists feeling lucky can play 800 slot games and 56 table games in the century-old Shriner’s temple at 600 N. Wabash Ave., with its distinctive domed ceilings and stained-glass windows.
A Chicago landmark since 2001, the temple was most recently home to a Bloomingdale’s furniture store and is now the location of the 15th casino to open in Illinois.
The temporary casino will be open seven days per week, officials said. Two restaurants — Kitchen 888 and the Medinah Bistro — will serve gamblers and their guests, while the Wabash Café will offer lighter fare and coffee, officials said.
Bally’s officials had hoped to open the temporary casino less than a block from the Magnificent Mile shopping district along Michigan Avenue in June, but did not clear regulatory requirements and get a permit from the state’s gaming administrator as well as a permit from the city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection department until Friday.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Gaming Board said Bally’s has 30 days to pay upfront fees of more than $135 million, which will be deposited into the Rebuild Illinois Fund for infrastructure projects statewide.
Approximately 500 people are expected to work at the temporary casino, and Bally’s has pledged to make sure that 60% of those employees are Black, Latino, Asian or American Indian, 45% women, 5% military veterans and 5% people with disabilities.
In December, the Chicago City Council voted 39-5 to approve plans for a permanent casino on what is now the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant and newsroom. The temporary casino is likely to be open for at least two years while the permanent casino and resort is under construction.
The temporary casino is opening over the objection of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), who urged his colleagues to reject the plan crafted by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot because it will snarl traffic downtown and exacerbate public safety concerns.
Plans call for the permanent $1.74 billion Bally’s casino and resort to open in 2026 on 30 acres in River West.
Bally’s has told city officials they will meet the requirements imposed by city officials that 25% of the facility be owned by Black, Latino or Asian shareholders, 50% of its employees be from Chicago and at least 26% of the construction contracts go to firms owned by women or Black, Latino or Asian Chicagoans.
City officials are counting on a casino to boost the city’s economy and funnel approximately $200 million into its police and fire pension funds, significantly easing the pressure on the city’s finances, while creating thousands of jobs and drawing tourists — and their fat wallets.
During her unsuccessful bid for reelection, Lightfoot emphasized that she succeeded in bringing a casino to Chicago in three years after former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel failed for 30 years, convincing state lawmakers to revise the tax structure for a Chicago casino in May 2020.
Despite that achievement, Lightfoot finished third in February’s election — and will watch Mayor Brandon Johnson celebrate the opening of Chicago’s first gaming palace.