The city of Chicago issued its Request for Proposal presenting the opportunity to apply for a casino license Thursday, giving gaming companies the chance to operate in the downtown area of the third-largest city in the United States.
The group with the winning proposal will be allowed to build the casino at its optimal site pending city approval. The license holder will also be allowed to operate a temporary casino for up to 24 months while the permanent one is being built and have the ability to operate slot machines at the city’s two airports, O’Hare International and Midway International. The license holder will be able to utilize up to 4,000 gaming positions for casino gambling.
“After years of planning, we are beyond excited to begin the RFP process for Chicago’s first casino,” Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with world-class operators to develop a premier entertainment destination that will catalyze growth in our dynamic economy, create sustainable, good-paying jobs for our workforce and bring new financial opportunities to our businesses.”
According to the timeline released by the city, proposals will be due Aug. 23 and groups will make their presentations in late September. In the fourth quarter of this year, the city will announce the qualifying applicants, who will then be able to negotiate host community agreements. The city will then select a final applicant in early 2022.
Chicago was one of six locations eligible to build a new casino as part of the gaming expansion bill Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June 2019 that also legalized sports wagering. Sports betting has taken off quickly in Illinois, with operators generating nearly $3 billion in handle since accepting the first wagers in March 2020 — despite being sidelined for two-plus months due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and providing the state with more than $31 million in tax receipts thus far.
What the city expects from applicants
One of Mayor Lightfoot’s biggest accomplishments is getting a Chicago casino through Springfield. Now she says the city is “full steam ahead” on path to a casino, though a long road lies ahead https://t.co/6xnYUUx3s6
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) April 22, 2021
Lightfoot and the city have a list of requirements in the RFP, including the following amenities:
- An “iconic” outdoor public space.
- A five-star hotel with 500 or fewer rooms.
- Meeting spaces that total no more than 60,000 square feet.
The city also expressed a desire for “ancillary spaces” for potential museums, performance venues, recreational facilities, retail shops, and restaurants that would focus economic development on city brands and city-based suppliers.
In terms of business requirements, the city is asking for 26% minority business enterprise and 6% women business enterprise as well as a preference provided to Chicago-based businesses. Additionally, 50% of the work hours are to be performed by city residents, which may include 7.5% of work hours from residents in the areas surrounding the casino facilities and is also subject to negotiation by the city.
The core project goals established in the RFP would have the winning applicant able to create “well-paying jobs and new economic opportunities,” integrate into the city landscape with an “architecturally significant design,” and offer the potential for additional economic development in the city.
The mayor has been a driving force behind bringing a casino to the downtown area, most notably revising the tax structure for a potential venue to be more operator-friendly that was passed as part of the state budget in May for Fiscal Year 2021.
Who could be interested in bidding?
Based on their providing responses to the city’s Request for Information (RFI) it released in December, Rush Street Gaming, Hard Rock International, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Resorts are likely candidates to apply.
Rush Street Gaming is a part-owner of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, located less than 20 miles from downtown Chicago and the closest Illinois-based casino to the city. It is also part of a joint bid with Churchill Downs Inc. for the Waukegan casino site north of the city in Lake County near the Wisconsin state line.
Hard Rock International has taken its first steps toward a casino in Rockford — another of the six sites selected for a new gaming venue in Illinois in the expansion bill — and will open a casino in Gary next month, adding to a crowded gaming scene in northwest Indiana just beyond the state line that includes Horseshoe Hammond and Ameristar Casino in East Chicago.
Rivers Casino is the biggest revenue generator in the state for gaming and one of the “Big 3” sports betting operators in the state via the BetRivers mobile app. For casino gaming, Rivers accounted for nearly 40% of the state’s $105.6 million in revenue in March and nearly 55% of the $10.7 million in overall retail sportsbook revenue since taking the first legal wagers in Illinois in March 2020.
Other gaming companies that could submit applications include Bally’s, which has aggressively expanded since its November rebranding from Twin Rivers; Landry’s Inc,. which owns Golden Nugget Casino; and Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming and Sands.