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Chicago Casino Finalists Include Rivers At South Loop’s 78, Hard Rock Near Soldier Field And Bally’s In River West

City officials said Tuesday there will be three community meetings held for residents to discuss each of the proposals 6-8 p.m. April 5-7.

The Rivers 78 Gaming proposed casino.
Provided/City of Chicago
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SOUTH LOOP — The 78 megadevelopment, the Tribune Publishing Center and the One Central project site are all in the running to host Chicago’s first casino.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced Tuesday the list had been narrowed down from five locations to those three — kicking the Michael Reese megadevelopment and McCormick Place off the lists of potential spots.

Lightfoot said the 78 plan, a Bally’s casino slated for the River West and a Hard Rock casino at the proposed One Central project site near Soldier Field best fit the city’s “core goals.”

“Each proposal offers economic, employment, and equity-focused opportunities for Chicago, while simultaneously enhancing the city’s cultural, entertainment and architectural scenes with world-class amenities and design,” Lightfoot said in a press release. “Our teams look forward to heading into discussions with the finalists and getting one step closer to bringing this decades-long project to fruition.”

Even as the process moves forward, Tuesday’s announcement blows a self-imposed deadline by Lightfoot to send a final pick to the Illinois Gaming Board by the end of March. The release did not set a new marker for the final choice, but officials said the City Council will review the plan at the same time as the gaming board.

The three proposals still in the running would aim to get a temporary casino up and running by mid-2023 or 2024, with a final complex ready to open by late 2025 or early 2026.

City officials revealed the full list of casino finalists in November, and have faced some resistance from neighborhood groups around the sites since then.

Earlier this month, The 78 Community Advisory Council held a meeting to reveal results of a survey that showed an overwhelming majority of respondents said they didn’t want a casino at the site, saying they think it would lead to more crime in the area, declining home values, contribute to heavy traffic and exacerbate problem gambling.

Community members in Chinatown expressed similar concerns.

City officials said Tuesday there will be three community meetings held for residents to discuss each of the proposals 6-8 p.m April 5-7.

In-person attendance will be prioritized for residents in the ZIP codes and then on a first-come, first-serve basis. The meetings will also be live-streamed.

April 5: Hard Rock at One Central

Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street 

April 6: Bally’s Tribune 

Tribune Publishing Plant, 700 W. Chicago

April 7: Rivers 78 

Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road 

RELATED: Bronzeville Leaders Did Not Want A Casino At Michael Reese Development — But Chicago’s First Casino Could Be Next Door

Credit: Provided/City of Chicago
The Rivers 78 Gaming proposed casino.

The 78 developer Related Midwest is partnering with billionaire Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming on the proposed $2 billion Rivers Casino.

As of November, the plan included:

  • 2,600 slots.
  • 190 table games.
  • 300 hotel rooms.
  • Eight restaurants, cafes and a food hall.
  • Five bars and lounges.
  • Riverfront venue and plaza with an observation deck.
Credit: City of Chicago
A rendering shows what a Bally’s casino planned for Tribune Publishing could look like. The Bally’s plan is one of five proposals the city is considering.

Bally’s Corporation would see a $1.8 billion casino built at the current home of the Chicago Tribune and its publishing center along the Chicago River.

The plan includes:

  • 3,400 slots
  • 173 table games
  • 500 hotel rooms
  • 6 restaurants, cafes and a food hall
  • 3 bars and lounges
  • A 3,000-seat entertainment venue
Credit: City of Chicago/Provided
The Hard Rock casino proposal.

Hard Rock aims to build a $1.7 billion casino at the proposed One Central development near Soldier Field that would take billions in state subsidies get off the ground.

The plan includes:

  • 3,000 slots
  • 166 table games
  • Up to 500 hotel rooms
  • 8 restaurants, cafes and a food hall
  • 6 bars and lounges
  • A 3,500-seat entertainment venue and a spa

City officials judged the five applications on four criteria, according to the 103-page “evaluation report” Lightfoot’s office released Tuesday: “economic and financial benefits to the city”; potential job creation; equity; and “design, planning, amenities and transportation considerations.”

All five plans included equity components and outlined extensive design and transportation blueprints, but their economic impact scores varied widely — and the two McCormick Place pitches fell short, data show.

City officials and researchers from the consulting firm Union Gaming found Bally’s plan for the McCormick Place marshalling yards was projected to bring in about $114.4 million in annual gaming revenues, less than any of the other five proposals. It is also the only proposal to lack a plan to open a early temporary casino before the larger project is ready.

The city will rely on taxes from the casino earnings to feed its ailing police and firefighter pension funds.

Not mentioned in the report was that Ald. Sophia King (4th), who represents the area, has vocally opposed the Bally’s McCormick Place plan. The site is adjacent to the planned $3.8 billion “Bronzeville Lakefront” megadevelopment, whose agreement with the city forbids it from hosting a casino.

While the Rivers McCormick Place plan was projected to bring in nearly $132 million in annual gaming revenues, making it a more serious contender in that category, it was only projected to create about 5,000 permanent jobs, far fewer than any its competitors. It was also forecast to bring in less than $15 million annually in other incidental taxes, like extra hotel and restaurant taxes, good enough for last place among the five plans.

The Hard Rock proposal to build a mega-casino as part of One Central, an imagined cluster of towers built on top of the Metra tracks near Museum Campus, is projected to be able to pull in $139 million in annual gaming revenues, $21.7 million in incidental taxes and create nearly 20,000 permanent jobs. It leads its competitors in all three categories.

However, the fate of the wider One Central plan is far from certain. Developer Robert Dunn has not scored approval from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) for his $20 billion plan, and he has repeatedly come up short on a request for funding help from Springfield.

After Lightfoot announces a final choice, the winning developer will have to write up “a comprehensive host community agreement memorializing the agreed upon terms,” officials said. The agreement will then pass to an “Aldermanic special committee” chaired by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and comprising about 35 alderpeople.

“All of City Council will be involved in the process for the final recommendation,” officials said.

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