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Chicago Has Range Of Choices For New Casino, But Sparking Neighborhood Development May Be Off The Table


Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration seems to have gotten past one big hurdle in its quest to develop a Chicago casino. After an uncertain year when it sometimes looked as if major operators would take a pass on Chicago, five proposals to operate a casino in the city hit the mayor's desk last week.

Lightfoot successfully pushed the state legislature to revamp the tax structure that would govern a Chicago casino, boosting the amount of revenue casino operators could expect and extending the deadline for casino proposals.

Las Vegas bigwigs were still skeptical. MGM Resorts International, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and Caesars Entertainment all said in 2021 that they were not interested, citing what some company officials described as a still-onerous tax structure for the proposed license.

But with proposals from four different companies for five sites, Lightfoot now has a range of choices, both in terms of potential operators and in locations. 

"The submission of bid responses represents a major step toward the thoughtful development of a casino-resort that uplifts our businesses, employs and empowers our residents and encourages tourism," the mayor said in a statement. "We look forward to the next phase of discussions to bring this world-class entertainment experience to our city.”

The mayor may have to give up one aspiration. Even though many experts say a successful gaming facility would have to be close to the downtown hotels to draw in a healthy share of Chicago's tourist trade, Lightfoot has spoken in favor of putting Chicago's casino outside of downtown as a way to foster new neighborhood development.

In 2019, the city commissioned a study that examined the feasibility of five far-flung sites, including Harborside in the Far South Side neighborhood of Pullman, and the former U.S. Steel Plant at 80th Street and DuSable Lake Shore Drive. A downtown site would bring in nearly double what the U.S. Steel site could expect, researchers found.   

The proposals now on the table are mostly for downtown or near-downtown sites, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The five proposals are:

— Rivers Chicago at McCormick proposed a casino at McCormick Place Lakeside Center, to be managed by Rush Street Gaming, the co-owner of Rivers Casino in northwest suburban Des Plaines.

— Rivers 78 Gaming proposed a casino for Related Midwest's The 78 development just southwest of the Loop. Rush Street Gaming would also manage this site. 

— Bally’s Corp. has two proposals, one for the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center at Halsted Street and Chicago Avenue in River West. Its other proposal, for a casino at McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard, near 31st Street and DuSable Lake Shore Drive, is outside downtown, but may be close enough to McCormick Center and its hotels to draw conventioneers. 

— In addition, HR Chicago proposed a single site that Hard Rock International would manage.