Someday, the largest casino in Illinois will occupy a section of Chicago proper. However, when it will open, where it will be and who will operate it are all anyone’s guess right now.
Since IL Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Sports Wagering Act authorizing the Chicago “mega-casino,” there has been little action. In December 2020, the city released its summary of responses from potential casino operators.
There’s been some movement toward selecting a site, however. City officials and most operators seem to favor placing the casino in downtown Chicago, although that may present some challenges.
Another challenge that causes potential developers to hesitate is the tax structure for the casino. Just as it could be the largest casino in Illinois, it would also be the most heavily taxed.
State lawmakers have tried to address that with further legislation. City leaders in Chicago are doing the same in terms of securing a landing spot.
Here’s a timeline of events related to the Chicago casino project, so far.
In January 2020, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled five potential casino locations, either on the south or west side of town.
Although Pritzker said he prefers one of these locations to spur economic development in those neighborhoods, it seems downtown has an edge. Under Lightfoot’s direction, the city put out a request for information (RFI) on a downtown location.
The city collected responses through Oct. 21, 2020. The city of Chicago heard from major casino operators MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, Hard Rock International and Rush Street, which already operates a Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.
Essentially, an RFI is a dressed-up solicitation for public comment by the city. It seeks to gather data and feedback about several items pertinent to placing a casino near downtown, such as:
At that time, it will look more at the possibility of selecting a downtown Chicago casino site. While a city council vote could nail down a location, it’s unclear when that will occur. Even if city leaders decide to eliminate the south- and west-side options, finding a suitable place in downtown Chicago could take some time.
Additionally, there would then be a matter of trying to convince a developer to spend the money to construct the facility given the tax structure.
Since the inception of the project, the city and the state have planned to tax the casino’s revenue aggressively. They’ve somewhat backed off of that, however.
A Union Gaming Analytics study performed in August 2019 ascertained that a downtown Chicago casino could produce billions of dollars of revenue. However, it also determined that such a facility would not turn a profit given the original tax structure.
Like with many other casinos, revenue would face a graduated tax. The original rates and thresholds made it so that the casino would have effectively paid 72% of its aggregate gross revenue to the city and state.
With only 28% of what it took in after comps and other tax rebates left to cover its expenses, actually having something to show for the business’ operation would have proven extremely difficult. For that reason, IL lawmakers worked to adjust the tiers in late May.
The amendment to the Illinois gambling law did not drop the rates for a Chicago casino. It did, however, raise the tiers for each graduated rate significantly.
For example, instead of paying a top rate of 74.7% on monthly slot revenue over $200 million, that rate now only applies to slot revenue of more than $1 billion in a month’s time.
Here is the table for slot taxes:
|Adjusted Gross Revenue||State||City||Total|
|$25 million-$50 million||16%||14%||30%|
|$50 million-$75 million||20.1%||17.4%||37.5%|
|$75 million-$100 million||21.4%||18.6%||40%|
|$100 million-$150 million||22.7%||19.8%||42.5%|
|$150 million-$225 million||24.1%||20.9%||45%|
|$225 million-$1 billion||26.8%||23.2%||50%|
The tax tiers for table games also increased with the latest legal wrangling. Again, the aim was to reduce the overall liability without dropping the rates themselves.
|Adjusted Gross Revenue||State||City||Total|
|$25 million-$75 million||10.7%||8.4%||19.1%|
|$75 million-$175 million||11.2%||9.8%||21%|
|$175 million-$225 million||13.5%||11.5%||25%|
|$225 million-$275 million||15.1%||12.9%||28%|
|$275 million-$375 million||16.2%||13.8%||30%|
The journey getting to the point where the city has put out an RFI and the state has adjusted the tax code has been an interesting story. This project already has quite a history.
Perhaps the most important difference between this and other IL casinos is the size of the project. State law authorizes up to 4,000 gaming positions at this facility.
Other IL casinos face a cap of 2,000 gaming positions. If you add amenities like convention space, a hotel, and restaurants, this could easily become one of the largest casinos in the nation.
That’s interesting given the landscape that already exists in the greater Chicago area. The Rivers Casino sits in suburban Des Plaines, for example.
Additionally, there are off-track betting sites in several Chicago suburbs. If you cross the state line into Indiana, the Ameristar East Chicago is a short drive.
Gary, IN, is also set to be the future home of a Hard Rock Casino. Then, add in that DraftKings plans to operate a brick-and-mortar sportsbook in or near Wrigley Field.
The Chicago casino project could become the jewel of the nation’s third-largest gambling market if it ever becomes reality. Currently, there is some movement toward that end but it’s very preliminary.
The Prairie State boasts 10 brick-and-mortar casinos. One of them is sure to be within a short driving distance. There are more on the way as well within the next few years.
We provide information on each property here, including whether it has or plans to host a sportsbook. The following casinos operate in IL:
Argosy Casino opened in 1991 on a small riverboat called the Alton Belle. Two years later, the larger Alton Belle II replaced its predecessor, substantially increasing the gaming positions in the boat. The casino remains on the same boat today. It no longer cruises, however, as the state changed the law in 1999 to allow casino boats to stay permanently moored.
While this casino doesn’t offers lodging, it does feature more than 800 slot machines and 12 gaming tables. In addition, gamblers can wager on sporting events at the self-branded retail book on board.
The DraftKings at Casino Queen opened in June 1993 on a boat called the White Star One. In 2007, the operations moved inland. At the same time, gaming operations significantly expanded.
In 2020, DraftKings formed a partnership with the casino’s management to integrate its brand into the property’s name. The companies did so in order to satisfy the state’s co-branding rules for online sports betting.
Today, you can find a hotel, an RV park, over 1,100 slots, 34 gaming tables and a massive retail sportsbook on the property. The complex also includes several dining options.
Since October 1994, Grand Victoria Casino has provided casino gaming to residents of Chicago’s far northwest suburbs. The property is now one of Caesars’ many holdings throughout the country.
The retail sportsbook was one of the first to open in 2020. Besides that, the casino offers several dining options, event space, over 1,100 slot machines and 36 gaming tables. Although the casino offers no lodging for guests, it does have a VIP area for its most frequent patrons.
This property has come a long way since its beginnings on the Northern Star boat in May 1993. The gaming floor now rests on two barges that boast over 40,000 square feet.
Taking up that space is 31 gaming tables, over 1,100 slot machines and dining options. There is also a 204-room hotel adjacent to the Des Plaines River where the barges lay.
If you’re looking for entertainment along the Ohio River, this property might be your best bet. The 800-plus slot machines, 25 gaming tables, five restaurants, event space and 258-room hotel await you.
This Caesars property has been open since 1994 when investment by Merv Griffin fueled the creation of what was then called Players Island. The moored boat also offers a steakhouse to fuel your gameplay.
This property was once the first-ever casino boat for the Hollywood corporation, but it’s now a Penn National Gaming holding. With continuous operation since 1993, it’s also one of the oldest properties in IL.
The boat moored along the Fox River boasts 26 gaming tables and over 1,100 slot machines on over 53,000 square feet of gaming floor. There is no adjacent lodging but the boat features three restaurants.
This boat was once known as the Empress Casino, starting operation in 1992. Since Penn National acquired the Hollywood brand in 2005, it did a major renovation that the company completed in 2009.
Onboard the boat, you’ll find a retail sportsbook, five restaurants, 18 gaming tables, and more than 1,100 slot machines. There is a 100-room hotel adjacent to the boat as well.
Representing the Illinois half of the Quad Cities, Jumer’s started out as a riverboat in 1991, getting its name from owner D. James Jumer. In 2008, the current property opened under the same name.
On-site, you’ll find a 205-room hotel, four restaurants, a poker room, a competitive offering of 25 gaming tables and over 850 slot machines. Because of its position on the Mississippi River, this casino pulls in many guests from neighboring Iowa.
Located in the middle of the state, Par-A-Dice is a boat docked on Peoria Lake. With a hotel, several restaurants, a retail sportsbook, 25 gaming tables and over 800 slot machines, there’s something for everyone.
The property has been one of the biggest and most popular outside of the Chicago/St. Louis metros since it started operating in 1991. In its current position since 1993, it also brought one of the most popular sports betting brands in the country to Illinois.
The closest casino to Chicago proper enjoys its position just minutes away from O’Hare International Airport. In March and April 2020, its proprietary sportsbook brand BetRivers became the first legal retail and online sportsbook in the state.
It’s also currently the youngest casino in IL, as it opened its doors in July 2011. It has all the trappings with six dining options, 65 gaming tables and over 1,000 slot machines. The casino does not have lodging, however.