After three decades and several mayors pressuring Springfield, Chicago’s first casino officially opened its doors on Saturday at 8 a.m.
The 111-year-old Medinah Temple, once home to the Shriner’s Circus, then later a Bloomingdale’s furniture store, is now operating as a temporary casino.
As Bally’s moves forward with a permanent riverfront casino scheduled to open 2026, the location will be in operation for several years.
John Bosca, past president of Neighbors of River West and member of the Casino Community Advisory Council created by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, has already visited the casino twice.
“It was beautiful inside, with a lot of activity. I really love the stained glass, the unique history and architecture,” Bosca said. “It exceeds the quality of other casinos I’ve visited.”
Bosca is hoping visitors to the temporary casino will spend money at surrounding River North stores and restaurants.
Could the temporary casino spark a revitalization of Michigan Avenue, where retail vacancy rates currently hover near thirty percent?
Deborah Carroll, director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, isn’t placing any bets on that.
“For the casino to truly have an impact on a city it has to attract individuals who would not otherwise come,” Carroll said. “If you look at all the research on casinos, a lot of it says the economic impact is still uncertain. A lot of research suggests it’s just a shifting around of income and not leading to increased growth.”
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) thinks the odds are against the casino bringing in all the revenue it promised.
“If anything, my concerns are exacerbated right now,” Hopkins said. “Since the city chose Bally’s to operate this casino, their stock is down 27% in the last year. They were counting on a much bigger opening weekend. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. I just don’t know where the money’s going to come from for them to live up to their obligations.”