Mayor Lightfoot Gives Ambitious Update On Chicago Casino Next Steps

Written By Joe Boozell on November 8, 2021

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Friday that she hopes to have a final list of Chicago casino candidates to recommend to the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) during the first quarter of 2022.

In late October, the city received five bids for its casino license. Bally’s, Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock all submitted proposals.

The Chicago casino will help fund police and fire pension funds. Lightfoot said at her Friday presser via the Chicago Sun-Times:

“We’re very, very interested in moving this process along as expeditiously as possible because, as you know, the revenue from that casino will fund our police and fire pensions and no time [like] the present for that.”

Lightfoot added that the proposals were “all very interesting, very robust and very well thought out.”

But before recommending names to the IGB, the mayor said development groups will likely have a chance to present to the city. She said:

“Our team is still going through and analyzing them. Our expectation is that we will bring the various respondents in and let them do presentations.”

That would have to happen in the near future if Lightfoot is going to meet her goal of recommending applicants to the IGB by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

And as we know, the IGB does not have a history of evaluating casino applications quickly. Still, after about two years of inactivity, the city is making progress on its long-touted casino project.

A look at the Chicago casino applications

Bally’s submitted two proposals, while two development groups submitted bids on behalf of Rush Street Gaming. Hard Rock put forth one proposal.

Here’s what we know about the proposed locations:

  • Bally’s Chicago: Chicago Tribune Publishing Center
  • Bally’s Chicago: McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard
  • Rivers Chicago at McCormick LLC: McCormick Place Lakeside Center
  • Rivers 78 Gaming LLC: 78 Chicago development site in the south loop
  • Hard Rock Chicago: Unknown

The Bally’s bids would each be $1.6 billion investments. Bally’s is making a big push in Illinois, as it now operates what used to be known as Jumer’s Casino & Hotel in western IL.

Meanwhile, Rush Street Gaming owns a significant stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, while Hard Rock is developing a casino in Rockford.

It would seem that Rush Street Gaming has a strong chance to land the license, as billionaire co-founder Neil Bluhm is interested and has a track record of success in the state. Rush Street also withdrew its bid for a Waukegan casino license, indicating that it’s all-in on Chicago.

With that said, Lightfoot has said that “there are no hometown favorites” for the license. And Bally’s and Hard Rock should offer serious competition.

Should presentations be available to the public, it will be fascinating to dig into the details of each proposal.

The latest on Waukegan, south suburban casino licenses

There are two bidders apiece remaining for the Waukegan and south suburban casino licenses. They are:

  • Full House Resorts (Waukegan)
  • Lakeside Casino LLC (Waukegan)
  • South Suburban Matteson (south suburbs)
  • Wind Creek LLC Homewood East Hazel Crest (south suburbs)

The IGB trimmed the list of applicants in October. On Oct. 28, the south suburban applicants presented their respective cases to the board.

Between now and the end of the year, all four applicants can submit their final proposals to the IGB. They will have an opportunity to give more thorough responses to any questions board members had for them at the presentations.

IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter has said that the board hopes to make a final decision for each license by early January. The board at that time will also give a “preliminary suitability” finding, which is just one step short of final approval.

In essence, both processes are picking up steam. Massive gaming expansion passed in 2019, and various parts of the rollout have been clunky at best.

But as 2021 comes to a close, it seems that Illinois is making real headway on the casino and sports betting front.

Photo by AP Photo/Jim Young
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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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