Chicago has five casino bids to choose from, two of which come from Bally’s Corporation.
Two of the other proposals are from Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock.
One Bally’s bid is located at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center on the near north side. The other is at McCormick Place.
The city hopes to choose a winning bid in the first quarter of 2022. As of right now, it appears that Bally’s has a strong chance of winning over key city officials.
PlayIllinois.com interviewed Chris Jewett, the business lead for the Bally’s Chicago bids. Here is our conversation.
Editor’s note: This conversation has been condensed for brevity.
PlayIllinois: Thanks for taking some time to chat, Chris. So why are you interested in the Chicago casino license and what attracts you to the area?
Chris Jewett: Yeah, so it’s obviously one of the greatest cities in the US, right? Urban casino, a massive opportunity. It’s a chance for us to kind of plant our flag and build a greenfield project from scratch. Every casino that we’ve added to our portfolio over the last four or five years has been bolt-ons to existing properties. So this is our chance to start from scratch, listen to the community and build what we want.
I think the Chicago metropolitan area consists of about 10 million people. I’ve personally spent the most time I’ve ever spent in Chicago over the last six months and I love it there. I could see myself living there long-term. I live in Buffalo, and we call it the city of good neighbors. I feel like Chicago is just like that, Buffalo on steroids.
PlayIllinois: No arguments there. So, some of the biggest companies weren’t interested in the Chicago casino license citing high tax rates, among other complications. Why, in your mind, do the positives outweigh the negatives?
Jewett: So, talking about the tax rate, right? I believe that Bally’s actually operates in the highest tax environment in the US. So we’re used to that. With that being said, I think building what is right for the city is the most important thing here. From everything I’ve read, and I don’t want to speak on behalf of our competitors, I don’t think the Wynns of the world can build something right-sized and offer what should be offered. If you look at Encore in Boston, for example, they spent almost $3 billion. It’s too big of a project.
Ultimately, it’s not Las Vegas where you’re operating under a sub-10% tax rate. You can’t just transform Wynn Encore in Vegas to Wynn Boston or Chicago; they’re not comparable.
Bally’s Chicago Tribune Publishing Center
PI: Can you paint a picture for the people of Chicago and Illinois what they’d be getting in a Bally’s Chicago casino? What differentiates you from competitors?
Jewett: There are a few things, right. No. 1, we don’t have any sort of conflict of interest in the market. Our nearest property is 180 miles away in the Quad Cities. No. 2, we have unique offerings depending on the site. You’re going to have incredible views on the Tribune site; you’re going to have the riverwalk. From an actual program standpoint, with our food hall, we’re doing a rotating chef program where ultimately, chefs in Chicago can come and showcase their talents. We’ve envisioned a lot of outdoor and green space, as you’ve likely seen from the renderings. There would also be an all-suite hotel with 100 rooms and a spa, which would be of five-star quality.
And then we’ll have a 20,000-square-foot exhibition space, and that’s going to contain a Chicago sports museum, which we imagine will be quite popular.
Bally’s McCormick Place
PlayIllinois: Do you have a preference toward one of your bids over the other?
Jewett: We do not. We think both are extremely feasible and we think they’re both economic sleeping giants. I think both have very good visibility and access from the highway, which is very important.
PlayIllinois: Any final thoughts?
Jewett: Our biggest focus outside of programming and such, based on what we’ve heard from the Mayor (Lightfoot) and the advisors that are running the RFP is the importance of diversity and inclusion. We want to build a casino that represents Chicago. And when we came in, we listened, as opposed to just coming in and telling people this is what we want to do.
We’re taking diversity very seriously here and have set some lofty goals. We’ve put together a group of nine contractors; eight of those businesses are minority-owned. From a hiring standpoint, we want 45% at a minimum of our employees to be women and minorities. And 25% of the project will be owned by women and minorities.
I can’t give you specific names because of mutual non-disclosure agreements, but I’m sure that when we win, we will be able to disclose a little bit more about who the investors are.
PlayIllinois: I can’t help but notice the language you use saying “when we win,” so how confident are you that the city will choose one of your bids?
Jewett: I use that because I’m very enthused about our bid. I love what we’re doing, I love what the company has put on the table. And quite frankly, since I’ve been with the company, everything we’ve said we were going to do we’ve executed on. So without answering your question directly, I hope that gives you a feel for why I say that.