Hard Rock Casino To Take Another Hard Look At Possible Chicago Bid

Written By Derek Helling on October 8, 2021

If you’re a Hard Rock Casino fan, northern Illinois and Indiana might be your Mecca in the near future. The possibility of three such facilities within a 200-mile radius has some new life to it.

Earlier this week, an executive with Hard Rock confirmed that the company is taking a second look at the chance to bid on the opportunity to run a casino in downtown Chicago. People hoping for a casino in that location shouldn’t read any further into that comment, however.

A Hard Rock Casino in Chicago?

One statement of this kind from a person like Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen has significant implications. All Allen said is that the company is reevaluating the opportunity, though.

Like most other casino operators so far, Hard Rock could ultimately pass still. As long as there are companies with even a passing interest, though, hope remains for the city and state.

The Chicago casino project came to life as part of the same gambling expansion that created legal sports betting in Illinois. Hard Rock is already part of that round of expansion, winning a bid to build a casino in Rockford.

Last year, it also took control of what is now the Hard Rock Northern Indiana in Gary. Thus, a Hard Rock Casino in downtown Chicago would make three properties within a 200-mile radius.

Allen said that proximity to the two other facilities alone wouldn’t be a sufficient deterrent. That’s good news for the city. It also comes at a time when hope was waning on the project.

Chicago widens net to lure bidders

Earlier this month, the city postponed a deadline for bids to Oct. 29. The previous cutoff date was Aug. 23. The reason for the extension? A lack of interest.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she believes the extra time will allow potential bidders to evaluate the opportunity further. So far, it looks like she was right to whatever extent Hard Rock follows through on Allen’s comments.

Other entertainment companies like Caesars, MGM and Wynn confirmed it doesn’t plan to submit bids for downtown Chicago. Among the reasons they gave was that the tax schedule is too onerous and the cost to build the facility is too high.

If Hard Rock decides to pass as well, the only bid might be from the company that currently operates the only casino in the greater Chicago area (on the IL side). That’s Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming.

Could Rush Street end up holding all the cards?

Rush Street operates the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

If the city has no other bidders, there’s little reason for Rush Street to make a lucrative offer to the city, especially considering the 40% tax rate and estimated $1 billion development cost.

Rush Street has submitted a bid, so obviously, proximity isn’t an issue for it, either. The city has extended the deadline hoping for some company to come in and save it from having to give Rush Street whatever it wants to make the casino happen.

It looks like Hard Rock could be that hero. At this point, though, it’s too early to plan on such a rescue. If Hard Rock passes, the city will be between a rock and a hard place.

Photo by Dreamstime.com
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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