Winning Chicago Casino Bidder Could Land Slots At Midway, O’Hare Airports

Posted By Joe Boozell on May 4, 2021

A potential Chicago casino operator has an even greater incentive to win the license based on an intriguing perk.

We now know that the winning bidder will be able to install slot machines at O’Hare and Midway international airports.

The Illinois gaming expansion allows for airport slots, but we had few details about how they could come to fruition.

If the winning bidder so chooses, it can operate slot games at O’Hare and Midway. The operator can divide the allowable 4,000 gaming positions between O’Hare, Midway and the casino-resort itself.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke about the possibility of airport slots in late April via the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

“That was a decision that was provided by the Legislature, and I think the idea was that in the downtime that people have at airports, it’ll give them another opportunity for entertainment. So we’re excited about that possibility. It’s one license, so whoever the partner is we select, they’ll also have that opportunity available, both at O’Hare and at Midway. We’ve already scouted out some locations in both places, so I think it just expands and enhances the opportunity for an operator here in Chicago.

“The main show, obviously, has to be the land-based casino itself. The airports are just another option if they want to take advantage of that for additional revenue. But we’re really going to be guided by what the operator thinks makes the most sense for them financially and obviously, our goal is to maximize making this a really special destination.”

In the US, only McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Reno-Tahoe International have airport slot machines.

And while they seem appealing for a potential operator on the surface, it might not be so simple.

How much could Chicago airport slots generate?

Due to the small sample size of US airport slots, we can only go off of Nevada numbers.

In 2019, their best fiscal year, Nevada airport slots generated $37.4 million in gaming revenue.

Michael Gaughan Airport Slot Concession Inc. operates approximately 1,400 machines at the Las Vegas airport. Gaughan told the Review-Journal that Chicago’s effective 40% gaming tax rate could make things difficult for operators there, however.

O’Hare is one of the three busiest airports in the US, so foot traffic wouldn’t be an issue. McCarran, for what it’s worth, is in the top five.

Based on that, Chicago airport slots could do similar numbers to what Nevada operators saw in 2019. Though like the casino itself, a winning bidder would need to navigate a high tax rate and operating costs.

What’s the latest on the Chicago casino?

The city of Chicago has put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the Chicago casino project, and companies have until Aug. 23 to apply.

A winning bidder could be chosen by the end of this year, with hopes that the casino could open by 2025. Based on which operator is selected, there is a chance that there would be a temporary Chicago casino facility while the permanent resort is built.

Chicago, by the way, isn’t the only region with a casino license. Five other IL licenses are up for grabs as well.

However, the process has moved at a snail’s pace in Rockford, Waukegan, the south suburbs, etc. Several groups sent in their applications in late 2019. As of this writing, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) hasn’t officially approved any of them.

Lightfoot criticized the IGB in April and urged them not to slow down the Chicago casino process when it comes time.

“Once we present a proposal to them (IGB), we’ve got to move forward expeditiously. And again, I don’t want to prejudge it, but I’m looking at the time, like the time it takes for the gaming board to do its work — it’s got to speed up,” Lightfoot said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

MGM Resorts has also said it likely won’t pursue the Chicago casino license, citing high tax rates. Its CFO also called Chicago “complicated.”

Lightfoot has said she hopes the biggest Las Vegas gaming companies will apply. A few likely will, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) the winner incorporates airport slots.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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