Chicago Casino Update: Mayor Lightfoot Invites Biggest Las Vegas Names To Apply

Written By Joe Boozell on March 18, 2021

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hopes to see some Las Vegas gaming companies bid for the city’s lone casino license.

“I think we’ve got a tremendous amount to offer and particularly for some of the more experienced gaming interests that do have Las Vegas as their home address,” Lightfoot said, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The city will put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) in early April, and Chicago hopes to choose a winning bidder by the end of this year.

In December, the city released the results of its initial Request For Information (RFI).

Eleven organizations responded to the request, and most potential operators agreed that they’d want a location in the heart of downtown.

Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International and Hard Rock International were among the respondents. Are they the favorites to land the Chicago casino license?

Let’s take a look.

Lightfoot openly interested in Las Vegas applicants

Lightfoot is clearly looking to go big with the Chicago casino project.

“We want to make sure that we put out an RFP that’s going to be attractive to some of the top gaming ventures in the world, so for us, the sky’s the limit. I don’t want to name names, but obviously there are some that we would be very excited if they applied.”

Wynn Resorts has shown interest.

“When a large city of significance decides to consider a gaming resort, we are interested. Chicago fits that profile,” Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver told Crain’s Chicago Business.

MGM and Hard Rock were two of the other most prominent brands to respond to the RFI. It appears that they will be in the running, as well.

Teresa Crawford / AP

While Lightfoot wants to attract the top US operators, that’s not her only mission.

“My hope is that many of them (applicants) will have Las Vegas addresses. I should say that I want to make sure that this is a completely open and transparent process. We’re not putting our thumb on the scale for anyone. We just want someone who really shares our vision about how great an opportunity this is and is going to think about this not just as building a box, but really being a part of a really exciting entertainment complex.”

Lightfoot hopes that the Chicago casino will open by 2025, at the latest.

With that said, six of the RFI respondents said they’d want a temporary casino while the permanent facility is built, so that remains a possibility.

Chicago casino process has moved slowly

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed gaming expansion into law in 2019, approving six new casino locations in the Land of Lincoln.

Fast-forward to 2021, and just one region (Rockford) has been found “preliminarily suitable” for a casino. Most operators remain in the application process.

Hard Rock is the Rockford casino operator.

The Chicago casino process, however, is moving even slower than the five other regions.

Two big hurdles were to blame for a while: The tax rate, and dissenting opinions on a location.

The legislature lowered the tax requirement, and there is near consensus on a downtown location.

Previously, Lightfoot had suggested these five areas:

  • Harborside
  • Michael Reese
  • Pershing and State
  • Roosevelt and Kostner
  • US Steel

These are mostly on the south or west sides of the city, not downtown.

Based on Lightfoot’s most recent comments, it doesn’t seem that she’d oppose a downtown location. And with a vast majority of RFI respondents preferring a downtown casino, that is likely what will happen.

It’s been a slow-moving process, but it looks like we’ll make some real progress in 2021.

Chicagoans aren’t counting on a Bears Super Bowl in the next four years, but they could get their casino.

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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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