In August, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot extended the Chicago casino Request For Proposal (RFP) deadline about two months. The new deadline is Friday, Oct. 29, and it looks like the extension has paid off thanks to Hard Rock.
Lightfoot extended the deadline primarily due to a lack of interest from operators.
She said in August:
“Extending the deadline for interested bidders will allow the city to collect as many robust, impactful and transformative proposals as possible. I look forward to seeing these bids roll in and working very closely with whichever team is ultimately chosen to develop Chicago’s first-ever casino.”
Caesars Entertainment, MGM International and Wynn Resorts have all said they’ll pass on the project.
But, on Tuesday, Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said his company is preparing to bid on the Chicago casino.
That’s significant, as Hard Rock had previously been quiet about its plans. It also likely means there will be more than one response to the RFP.
Here’s what else we know about the Chicago casino RFP bidding process going into Friday.
Rush Street has been considered the favorite to land license
Rush Street Gaming has long been the frontrunner to land the Chicago casino license.
At the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) conference in July, Lightfoot attempted to squash rumors that it was a foregone conclusion, saying:
“There’s a little conversation about this, I’m told. This RFP (Request for Proposals) is wide open. There are no hometown favorites. We want to make sure we get the best-in-class opportunities for anyone across the country who understands the value of being in a city like Chicago.”
Rush Street’s headquarters are in Chicago. It is also a part-owner of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, currently the most popular casino in Illinois.
Some previously worried that it would be politically problematic for Lightfoot if Rush Street was the only bidder.
Leslie Bluhm, the daughter of Rush Street co-founder Neil Bluhm, is one of Lightfoot’s biggest political donors.
Alderman Brian Hopkins, 2nd ward, told Crain’s Chicago Business:
“For the mayor to approve a deal that would be essentially a sole source contract on something this significant — I think there would be a lot of criticism.”
That’s where Hard Rock comes in.
Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen recently said that the company is “reevaluating the opportunity.” On Tuesday, he went further, saying Hard Rock plans to submit casino bids on Chicago and New York City.
Prior to the news, it looked as though the legislature might need to fix the 40% effective tax rate on the Chicago casino.
Tom Swoik, the executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, thought that could be the case.
He told PlayIllinois in August:
“I think you’ll see in the next session an effort to change the tax structure for Chicago again.”
With the Hard Rock revelation, that might not be necessary.
More new Illinois casino news
While the Chicago casino process is dragging on, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) is making progress in two other regions.
There are now two bids apiece remaining for the south suburban and Waukegan licenses. Last week, the IGB narrowed the south suburban list from four to two.
The south suburban applicants will have a chance to present to the board this week. By early January, the IGB should determine final bids for each region, as well as give a “preliminary suitability” finding.
The suitability finding is the last step before final approval.
This would leave Danville and Chicago as the final new casino regions without concrete plans. The IGB has already determined winning bids for the Rockford and Williamson County licenses.
Hard Rock, which is also the Rockford suitor, is expanding its Illinois presence. And if it follows through on its Chicago casino proposal, Hard Rock will be going all-in on the Land of Lincoln.