Calling it a “once in a generation opportunity,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot opened the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States on Monday by promoting her city as it continues accepting proposals for a casino in the downtown area.
The downtown area of the third-largest city in the country was one of six sites permitted to host a casino when Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law in June 2019 a massive gaming expansion bill that also legalized sports wagering in Illinois. The city issued its RFP in late April, though the biggest news in the process to date was MGM Resorts saying shortly thereafter that it would likely not be among the applicants.
“For interested owners and operators, our city truly provides a once in a generation opportunity to build a casino and entertainment district in a major American city,” Lightfoot said, ticking off the city’s metropolitan population and key economic drivers as points of attraction. “I’m looking forward to reviewing the proposals that come in.”
Lightfoot was able to make downtown Chicago a viable site for a potential casino following an extensive rewrite of the casino tax structure that was approved by state government in May 2020. The goal is for the downtown casino to be open by 2025.
Lightfoot: Process is ‘wide open’
The mayor also looked to knock down speculation that Rush Street Gaming is the odds-on favorite to be awarded the downtown license. The Illinois-based company has a substantial stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines — the closest Illinois-based casino to Chicago — and is among the finalists to build a casino in Waukegan, less than an hour’s drive from the city to the north and near the Wisconsin border.
“There’s a little conversation about this, I’m told. This RFP is wide open,” she added in perhaps the closest thing to impromptu remarks. “There are no hometown favorites. We want to make sure we get the best-in-class opportunities for anyone across the country who understands the value of being in a city like Chicago.”
Rivers Casino is the primary gaming revenue generator among the 10 casinos in Illinois and accounted for more than half of the $21.4 million in tax receipts in the state for the month of June, according to figures released by the Illinois Gaming Board. It has generated nearly $200 million in adjusted gross revenue this year and more than $50 million in state and local taxes.
Lightfoot noted that while the casino is important to the city, it needs to be part of an “integrated casino resort.” She emphasized the “resort” aspect, telling panelists, “What we envision is a world-class entertainment district, anchored by a casino but also providing other amenities so that our tourists and residents can take advantage of a first-class gaming experience.”
City will be a willing partner
Lightfoot promoted her office as friendly to the industry, saying, “We understand the importance of business. We understand the importance of creating opportunities for all our residents across our neighborhoods. So an operator who comes to invest in Chicago is going to have a partner in our government that is going to provide support to uplift the surrounding community and environment.
“So not only will you have a great business opportunity, you’re going to find a ready, willing, and able workforce that is going to be supported by this administration.”
The mayor concluded her remarks by noting that gaming can help cities and that Chicago is watching other municipalities — citing Las Vegas as an example — to help it identify best practices that will make the city attractive to potential bidders.
“On the heels of a once in a generation pandemic and the worst economic crisis in 75 years, gaming, among other industries, has the potential to truly revitalize and transform communities and cities,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve been watching here in Chicago quite closely. We’re watching what happens in cities like Las Vegas and other gaming centers around the world, and seeing how these other centers have adapted to a post-pandemic economy and realities.
“And we are well-poised to take advantage of the best practices that we have seen across the country and, truly, across the world.”