Chicago Reveals Details on Billion-Dollar Casino Bids, Presentations Set for Dec. 16

The companies behind the five proposals for Chicago’s casino-resort project will get a chance to present their plans to the public on Dec. 16. That’s according to a release from city officials on Friday that included more details about each of the applicants.

The investment totals for the proposals range from $1.3 billion to $2 billion. Developers propose to offer between 2,600 to 3,400 slot machines and between 166 and 190 table games.

The time and location for the proposal presentations will be announced at a later date.

In a statement, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said all of the proposals align with what city leaders had in mind as they pursued a casino license. The Illinois legislature granted the state’s metropolis the rights more than two years ago.

The proposals were submitted by Bally’s Corp., Hard Rock International, and Rush Street Gaming. Bally’s and Rush Street both submitted two plans.

Those proposals will be reviewed by a team of city officials that will make a recommendation to Lightfoot. The team will include officials from several city departments. Consultants will also provide input on the proposals’ designs, feasibility, financial projections, traffic impact, workforce impact, and legal compliance.

The goal is to have a single applicant present to the Illinois Gaming Board for licensure by the first quarter of next year.

Details from each proposal are found below.

Rush Street’s Revamp of McCormick Place

Of the five proposals, the smallest – in terms of investment – would also be the one most likely to open the quickest.

Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming would invest $1.3 billion to renovate the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place, the city’s convention center. The casino there would include 2,600 slots and 190 table games. It would include a dozen restaurants and four bars and lounges. That’s in addition to full-service bars at seven restaurants.

Rush Street does not propose to build a hotel but instead relies on the 2,900 rooms surrounding North America’s largest convention center. If necessary, Rush Street would build a 250-room expansion.

The casino would also feature a 4,200-seat Arie Crown Theater and offer outdoor dining and entertainment options with a setting by Lake Michigan.

In the proposal, Rush Street said that backdrop would create a “dramatic facility” rivaling “destination casinos” across the globe. It would also offer covered access to McCormick Place, which would be a drawing card for convention visitors.

Rush Street’s $2B Rivers 78 Proposal

Rush Street also proposes the largest investment in a partnership with Related Midwest. Rivers Casino at The 78 would be a $2 billion development in The 78, a Related Midwest development billed as the city’s newest neighborhood.

It would feature the same amount of slots and tables as Rush Street’s McCormick proposal. However, the riverfront casino would come with a 300-room hotel, eight restaurants and cafes, and five bars.

A signature feature of the proposal is a 1,000-foot-plus observation tower with indoor and outdoor viewing space. Rivers 78 also would include a multi-purpose venue along the Chicago River.

While the permanent structure was being built, Rush Street would set up a temporary venue in a riverboat docked at the neighborhood.

Once completed, Rush Street and Related Midwest said Rivers 78 would serve as one of the city’s top tourist attractions, with projections of 7 million visitors annually.

Bally’s Eyes Tribune Printing Plant

Bally’s is offering two nearly identical casinos, with the only major differences being the locations and the $200 million added cost for the casino. That gaming facility would be built at the current location of The Chicago Tribune’s printing plant, compared to the one in Bronzeville at the McCormick Place Truck Marshalling Yard south of the convention center.

Both casinos would offer 3,400 slots and 173 table games. The hotel tower would feature 500 rooms, and the resort would include six restaurants, three bars, and a food hall. Each site would include a 3,000-seat entertainment center and 20,000-square-feet of exhibition space.

If the McCormick site is selected, Bally’s would give the city $50 million. It would give the city $25 million if the Tribune site is picked.

The Tribune project would cost $1.8 billion, while the McCormick site would cost $1.6 billion.

In both proposals, Bally’s said the Chicago casino would be a “flagship property,” and unlike Rush Street and Hard Rock, it does not own or operate any other casino in the Chicago market.

However, the McCormick site does face opposition from the city alderman who represents the neighborhood.

Despite that opposition, Chicago CFO Jennie Huang Bennett said Friday that all proposals will be treated equally and fairly.

The Tribune site north of West Chicago Avenue would be Bally’s top pick for a temporary venue. But it may also select McCormick South if the Marshalling Yards is picked.

Hard Rock Proposes $1.7B Casino-Resort

Hard Rock proposes a 3,000-slot casino with 166 table games at the planned ONE Central site just north of McCormick Place. The Florida-based company expects to invest $1.7 billion in the project

A hotel tower would feature up to 500 rooms, and the resort would include eight restaurants and six bars. A 3,500-seat Hard Rock Live entertainment center would be a featured amenity, as well as a spa and a Hard Rock Music and Entertainment Experience.

Hard Rock’s proposal, submitted with partner Landmark Chicago Interests, indicated that the casino resort built next to three other urban districts will help bring 15 million new visitors to the market.

If selected, Hard Rock plans to use either the McCormick Lakeside Center, McCormick Place North, the convention center’s south parking lot, or other tracts within ONE Central as its temporary casino site. That site would be ready within six-to-nine months after getting all regulatory approvals.

Selection Process Carries Into 2022

The selection process may include a first cut of proposals, which would then lead city officials to begin negotiations with the remaining bidders. That may also include a subsequent public meeting where those applicants will unveil changes they’ve made to their proposal.

Once the city selects its winning bid, the City Council would entertain an ordinance of support. That company would also submit a planned development application.

Before the ordinance of support would be approved, the city’s Plan Commission would hold a hearing on the development application. The council’s Committee of Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards would also hold hearings before the full council would vote on the ordinance.

“Those are kind of process steps that we expect to happen in 2022,” Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar said Friday. “Hopefully on the earlier side.”

If the City Council then approves the ordinance, the applicant would then go before the Illinois Gaming Board for licensure.

The time frame for the IGB’s review is unknown. However, the board is still reviewing applications for new casinos in other parts of the state.

Economic Projections Still Being Evaluated

Once approved, the license holder would have the opportunity to open a temporary venue while it’s building the permanent facility. The temporary casino would be allowed to operate for 24 months before the permanent structure opens, although the city would consider a 12-month extension.

The city also gave bidders the option to pursue installing slots at its two airports. But Bennett said the city still needed to talk with the bidders to see if they were interested in those opportunities.

Bally’s said it intends to work with the city on determining how many of its 4,000 available seats it would utilize at O’Hare International and Midway. That’s according to the sections of the proposals released Friday,

Chicago officials sought a casino license because it sees the revenues the resort attraction could generate. It would be a key source of income to help it cover its burgeoning public pension costs. Bennett said the city’s police and fire departments have unfunded pension liabilities of $11 billion and $5 billion respectively.

Union Gaming Group has estimated the city could receive $200 million annually in casino revenues to help shore up those funds.

“We are still in the process of reviewing the detailed projections and economic impact studies that were provided with the proposals, and are developing our own estimates on revenues and economic impact,” Bennett said. “But importantly, we know that there will be a material improvement to revenues to the city, as well as overall economic impact.”

Initially, casino proposals were to be due in August. However, after the city raised concerns about a possible lack of bidders, officials extended the deadline to Oct. 29 and openly encouraged companies to submit bids.

Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen said discussions with Chicago officials played a key role in the company’s decision to make a bid.

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