A casino heading to the Windy City is getting closer after Bally’s reached a deal with the Chicago Tribune’s parent company, Alden Global Capital. Plans call for moving the newpaper’s printing plant to another site and out of the Freedom Center, which is located on a property on the Chicago River.
The deal now allows Bally’s to move forward with building a casino and entertainment complex in the area.
“Under the agreement, Bally’s will make a series of undisclosed cash payments to buy out the remainder of the paper’s lease for the printing facility,” according to Crain’s Business Chicago. “The plant sits on the 30-acre riverfront site that a Bally’s venture bought late last year for $200 million with a plan to redevelop the property into a 1 million-square-foot casino and hotel complex.”
Chicago Casino Plans
Tribune will now move by July 2024 and clears the way for the city’s first casino. The construction of a Chicago casino has been a major goal for outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D). The selection process finally wrapped up last May after a three-year effort.
Bally’s proposed a $1.7 billion riverfront property and was selected after the state’s gaming board received several bids.
“It goes without saying that this is a major, major milestone in our city,” Lightfoot said at a news conference after the vote. “I’ve talked about the fact that for over the last three decades, this was tried but not accomplished. And now because of the work of so many people who are here with us today, and thanks to today’s approval by city council, we are making a long sought dream a reality.”
The new casino is expected to begin construction in 204 and then open by 2025 or 2026. City officials foresee the property bringing in $200 million in annual tax revenue to help offset police and fire pension debt by the second year of operation as well as $55 million in annual tax dollars for city coffers. Some council members dispute those figures, however.
Bally’s is paying the city an initial fee payment of $40 million and another $4 million annually. The company is also expected to make $75 million in infrastructure improvements. The new casino is expected to include:
- 3,400 slot machine
- more than 170 table games
- 500 hotel rooms
- a 3,000-seat entertainment venue
- six restaurants, a food court, and three bars
Clearing the Way for the Casino
Bally’s also plans to open a temporary casino by the summer 2023 at the Medinah Temple building in River North, which is expected to provide 700 jobs on its own. The company is now awaiting state gaming license approvals to move forward with the project.
The new deal with Tribune means a significant hurdle for the property has been removed. Alden purchased the newspaper in 2021 and has recently extended the deal for the space at the Freedom Center for an additional 10 years.
Alden seems to have held quite a bit of leverage in the negotiations and the two parties weren’t close to an agreement until recently when the cash payment arrangement was reached.
“We are saddened to be relocated from our long term home at The Freedom Center,” Tribune Publishing noted in a statement to Crain’s, “but gratified to help clear the way for an economic development project that is so important to this city.”
Inside Chicago-Area Gaming
Chicago-area gamblers already have several options when it comes to casino gaming. The first Illinois casinos opened in 1991 and several properties are also available across the border to the east in Indiana, such as Ameristar in East Chicago and Caesars Horseshoe in Hammond.
Casinos on the Illinois side are located in suburbs and smaller cities. The city originally opted out when the Illinois legislature legalized gaming in 1990. The area now boasts Bally’s Quad Cities Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, Illinois, and Hollywood Casino Joliet, about 45 minutes southwest of the city.
In other Chicago casino news, two of those suburban casinos will soon be moving. Penn Entertainment has announced plans to relocate two suburban Chicago riverboat casinos. Hollywood casinos in Aurora and Joliet will move to new land-based facilities.
The Aurora property will move to a new $360 million location near Chicago Premium Outlets mall. The Joliet casino will move to a new $185 million facility in the Rock Run Crossings development.
“Approval of the relocation proposals for the Hollywood Aurora and Hollywood Joliet casinos are a significant step in the regulatory process to bring new gaming venues to these host communities,” Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter said. “The IGB will work with Penn Entertainment as it moves through the regulatory process to ensure these relocated casino venues are constructed, opened and operated in an efficient, ethical and compliant manner.”
Other Plans for Bally
Bally’s is also launcing Bally Casino PA in the Pennsylvania online casino market in 2023; their NJ online casino has been live since 2022. In addition, the brand has been approved for a Category 4 land-based casino in Pennsylvania; construction should take approximately a year once it gets started in College Township.