Lightfoot On Chicago Casino Operator: There Are No Hometown Favorites

Written By Joe Boozell on July 12, 2021

Editor’s Note: Joe Boozell of PlayIllinois is reporting live from the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. Follow him for further coverage @Play_Illinois.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot spoke about the future Chicago casino at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) conference on Monday. The Chicago mayor made a point of letting bidders know that it’s an open process.

“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 Gaming, headquartered in Chicago, is known to have an interest. Hard Rock, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts also responded to the city’s Request For Information (RFI) in 2020. Lightfoot’s comments suggest that there is a belief that the license going to Rush Street is inevitable.

And, despite responding to the RFI, MGM has said it likely won’t pursue the Chicago casino license, citing high tax rates.

Rush Street Gaming has been in the news quite a bit as of late.

Churchill Downs is reviewing bids for Arlington International Racecourse. Rush Street and Churchill Downs share ownership of Rivers Casino. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears submitted a bid to buy the Arlington park. Shortly thereafter, the Bears made BetRivers their official sports betting partner.

But as she has said publicly all along, Lightfoot welcomed more bidders. She also touted just how big of an opportunity a Chicago casino could be for the city and potential operators:

“For interested owners and operators, our city truly provides a once in a generation opportunity to build a casino and entertainment district in a major American city. I’m looking forward to reviewing the proposals that come in.”

Let’s take a look at how we got to this point in the Chicago casino process.

Chicago among six Illinois regions to get new casino

When gaming expansion passed in Illinois in 2019, six regions received the opportunity to bid for a casino license. They were:

  • Rockford
  • Waukegan
  • Danville
  • Williamson County
  • South suburbs
  • Chicago

While any new casino project is significant, Chicago holds extra weight based on its size.

However, the process has moved at an extremely slow pace thus far, and we still know very little about the casino itself.

For starters, we don’t know where the casino will be located. There was initially reason to think it could be on the south or west side of the city in an effort to spur economic development in those areas. Still, operators seem more interested in putting a casino-resort in the heart of downtown.

We also don’t know which gaming operator will host the casino, as mentioned above.

But in April, the city put out a Request For Proposals (RFP). Chicago should select a winner proposal in late 2021 or early 2022, and then submit its materials to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).

Of course, the IGB has not processed casino applications for other regions quickly. There still haven’t been any final approvals for new casino licenses, and only two proposals have been found “preliminarily suitable.” Those are Hard Rock Casino Rockford and Walker’s Bluff Casino (in Williamson County).

Lightfoot has already criticized the IGB

Even though Chicago is behind every other region in the application process, Lightfoot has already criticized the IGB anyway.

She said in April via the Chicago Sun-Times:

“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 mentioned in her address that keeping gaming profits in Illinois is key. With multiple casinos in northwest Indiana, Illinois is missing out on money to the Hoosier State every day that a Chicago casino is not yet open.

“My goal is to repatriate those dollars from Chicago residents who are going over the border to Indiana. No offense to the Hoosiers, but that money spends better here in Chicago.”

Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
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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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