The Pros And Cons Of All 5 Chicago Casino Proposals

Written By Joe Boozell on December 16, 2021

Chicago casino bidders presented their plans to the city public on Thursday. Now, city officials must determine which application they would like to select.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she hopes to have a winner in the first quarter of 2022. Rush Street Gaming and Bally’s are responsible for two bids apiece, while Hard Rock submitted one proposal.

We are finally making some headway on the Chicago casino process. Once the city chooses a bid, the winner will have to apply with the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).

After watching all the presentations and digging into the proposal details, here are the pros and cons of each bid.

Rivers Chicago McCormick

Pros

  • The Rivers Chicago McCormick proposal would easily be the quickest to market. The current McCormick Place Lakeside Center would be repurposed rather than building something from scratch. Presenters said that the casino would be ready to go within a year of approval from the IGB.
  • Rush Street Gaming partially owns Rivers Casino Des Plaines, the most popular casino in Illinois. Thus, Rush Street has a successful track record of running casinos.
  • Rivers is a recognizable brand in the Chicagoland area.
  • Lakefront view.
  • Under this proposal, the existing space would be repurposed instead of building a structure from nothing. That will mean less disruption to the surrounding neighborhood.

Cons

  • At $1.3 billion, this is the cheapest proposal. While this isn’t an automatic negative, it raises the question of whether any quality will be sacrificed for the future Chicago casino consumer.
  • The location could be a negative for some. It’s near Soldier Field, which can be a traffic nightmare and doesn’t have easily accessible public transit options. However, area traffic depends on the time of day.
  • The proposal calls for updates to the nearby Arie Crown Theater, though some may oppose this because some in the convention industry oppose the casino.

Rivers 78

Pros

  • Rivers 78 Casino would be between the South Loop and Chinatown; this site is described as the “most accessible” by the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Various Chicago bus and train lines run close to this location.
  • It would sit alongside the Chicago River.
  • “The 78” development side has been approved and construction is underway, unlike One Central, another proposed megadevelopment and casino site.
  • Like Rivers McCormick, its Rush Street ties are an advantage. Rivers is also a very well-known gaming brand in Illinois.
  • Rivers has operated other successful casinos in urban areas such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
  • It would feature a 1,000-foot observation deck.

Cons

  • It could conflict with Gov. JB Pritzker’s plans for a University of Illinois tech research center in a similar area.
  • Given how close it is to residential neighborhoods, it could draw serious backlash from certain Chicago residents.
  • Unlike other Rush Street proposals, this plan would take longer than a year to construct.

Bally’s Chicago Tribune Publishing Center

Pros

  • Bally’s has vowed to make a Chicago casino its “flagship property” and the center of its casino portfolio.
  • The casino wouldn’t have conflicting interests nearby, unlike Rush Street (Rivers in Des Plaines) and Hard Rock (Rockford and Gary, Indiana).
  • Bally’s is a growing US brand, as it owns various regional sports networks. Also, Bally’s has made a huge investment in the sports betting market.
  • The casino would be accessible from all parts of Chicago, as it’s on the near north side.
  • River views.
  • The proposal includes various Chicago-specific amenities, including a Chicago sports museum.
  • Bally’s promises an upfront payment to the city of $25 million upon selection.

Cons

  • Timing: This plan has multiple phases, as Phase 1 costs $1 billion and Phase 2 could cost up to $600 million. Rivers McCormick specifically mentioned this in its presentation.
  • Bally’s is not as recognizable of a name in Illinois as Rivers.
  • It would be located in a more developed neighborhood than some competing proposals. How much would it add to what’s already there?

Bally’s McCormick Place

Pros

  • Bally’s has vowed to make a Chicago casino its “flagship property” and the center of its casino portfolio.
  • Bally’s has no conflicting interests nearby, unlike Rush Street (Rivers Des Plaines) and Hard Rock (Rockford Gary).
  • It is a growing US brand, as it has various regional sports networks and has made a huge investment into the sports betting space.
  • The casino would include various Chicago-specific amenities, including a Chicago sports museum.
  • If selected, Bally’s promises a $50 million upfront payment to the city.

Cons

  • Also has multiple construction phases, calling the timeline into question.
  • There has been serious backlash toward this proposal from certain people. Local Ald. Sophia King (4th) is adamantly opposed.
  • Not as easily accessible via CTA or Metra as some other proposals.

Hard Rock One Central

Pros

  • If One Central is built, it will contain a network of several transit agencies, including CTA, Metra and Amtrak. Therefore, there would be plenty of public transit options.
  • Hard Rock is a globally relevant brand and has been working closely with the IGB on its Rockford project.
  • The area would be extremely modern, and considering the nature of the project, there would be tons of new surrounding economic development.

Cons

  • One Central does not currently exist, and it needs $6.5 billion in state financing in order to become a reality.
  • Gov. Pritzker’s office has not publicly supported One Central.
  • Timing: Even if One Central ultimately comes to life, it would likely take a long time to build a casino, considering the area’s lack of approval and existing infrastructure.
  • Mayor Lightfoot’s office wants to pick a winner in early 2022, and the timeline doesn’t appear to work as the state hasn’t backed One Central.
  • The transit agencies have also not publicly supported One Central.
Photo by City of Chicago
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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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