April 25, 2024


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Chicago casino temporary site gets initial state approval

5 min read
Chicago casino temporary site gets initial state approval

The city of Chicago is well on its way to getting a temporary casino after a ruling Thursday by a state regulatory body that oversees gambling, but it’s unclear if it’ll happen by a projected summertime target date.

The Illinois Gaming Board is placing its bets on Bally’s, giving the company an initial greenlight to operate a temporary site at Medinah Temple, a Moorish-style, amphitheater with domed ceilings and stained glass windows on North Wabash Avenue. The board granted Bally’s “preliminary suitability” status, a major step towards securing a permit to open.

Brown paper and black plastic tarps were taped to the windows and glass doors of the temple earlier this week. The few indicators of the coming casino were large QR codes plastered in the windows advertising open jobs at Bally’s and a red piece of paper giving notice of a license application with the city.

“We’ve asked the city of Chicago to bet on Bally’s and we’re here to pay that bet off,” said Bally’s Corporation Chairman Soo Kim in a presentation to the board Thursday.

The casino’s progress isn’t without pushback. On Thursday, an anti-predatory gambling group issued a press release alleging the board has ignored its concerns over Bally’s track record. Closer to home, the project is still opposed by the local alderman, Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, where the temporary casino is expected to open.

“I think it [is] a terrible location for a casino given the existing public safety issues that exist on those blocks and the major negative traffic impacts it will cause,” Reilly said in a text message, referring to the Medinah Temple plan.

Still, the four-member gaming board unanimously approved Bally’s “preliminary suitability” status for slots, table games and other casino staples. Here’s what that means, plus next steps, as the city embarks on opening its first casino.

When can I place a bet at a Chicago casino?

Short answer: soonish?

The status awarded Thursday is an indication the temporary casino is on track, and gives Bally’s the go-ahead to make serious progress in its application process. A spokesperson for Bally’s said the company aims to open by the end of the summer.

But Bally’s still has some hoops to jump through — including undergoing a “practice gaming session” — before the company gets final approval to open Medinah to gamblers.

If the casino passes that test and meets other regulatory requirements – such as having an adequate system for transferring cash from tables to the safe – the gaming board administrator alone can issue a temporary permit.

It’s unclear how long that process could take. In Rockford, the process from suitability to permit took about nine months and just two months for a casino in north suburban Waukegan.

A gaming board spokesperson stressed the state was processing numerous casino applications at the time, and that it’s hard to predict the timing for Chicago’s temporary casino opening. State law does not stipulate a timeframe.

On the city side, an application for an amusement license, which the casino also needs to operate, is still pending before the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, a spokeswoman said. That permit does not need council approval, though Reilly said he hopes Mayor Brandon Johnson “looks at this carefully.”

The temporary casino is expected to house 750 slot machines and more than 50 table games.

How much money will the city make from the casino this year?

Chicago already received a $40 million upfront payment from Bally as part of its initial deal with the city. That lump sum went to the city’s 2023 pension payment for police officers and firefighters. The casino has also pledged a $2 million lump payment when the temporary casino opens.

In addition to that, the city, which had hoped to open the temporary site mid-year, projects $20 million in tax revenue from the casino this year, but did not incorporate that into 2023 spending. Because of that, a spokesperson said, the city won’t need to replace the revenue if it falls short this year.

But the sooner the casino opens, the better for the city’s finances, as it’s being pegged as a much needed boost for the city’s underfunded pensions (though it won’t be a panacea).

How many jobs will the temporary casino mean?

Bally’s has projected that overall, the casino project will mean thousands of jobs in construction and staffing. The temporary casino will bring more than 500 positions, a Bally’s representative said Thursday.

For now, Bally’s website is advertising jobs for its “grand opening” and its careers site lists over 60 positions in Chicago from slot attendants to table games dealers. Bally’s has received more than 11,000 applications, Mark Wong, the vice president and general manager for Bally’s Chicago told the board Thursday. Classes to train dealers are underway with over 200 active students, Wong said.

Bally’s has yet to hire anyone for the Medinah Temple location, a spokeswoman told Crain’s Chicago Business this week, but interviews are ongoing.

Of the more than 500 employees expected at the temporary location, Bally’s is committing to 60% of those hires being minorities, 45% women, 5% veterans and 5% people with disabilities, according to the casino’s presentation to the board Thursday.

Every one of those employees will have to be approved and licensed by the gaming board, as required by Illinois law, pending a criminal, and in some cases financial, background check, a board spokesperson said.

When will the permanent casino open?

The sure bet is that the Medinah Temple will be the only gambling site for a couple of years before the permanent Bally’s site opens at Halsted Street and Chicago Avenue.

The permanent site will have to go through a similar process with the gaming board, including regulatory hoops and a practice session. It’s slated to open in the first few months of 2026 — and Bally’s has promised to pay the city for “lost revenues” if it doesn’t.

Mariah Woelfel and Tessa Weinberg cover city politics and government for WBEZ.


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