That was wonderful news for city tax collectors – while the recent announcement of further delays that will push the grand opening back to sometime in September was a bit deflating.
That’s because while Chicago welcomes an estimated 50 or more million tourists each non-COVID-19 year, the visits are more concentrated in the summer months than other northern U.S. cities.
That’s because while the latter cities also tend to do well in “shoulder months” of April/May and September/October with expectations of comfortable temperatures, lifelong Chicagoans like to joke that the city has only two seasons – “summer” and “winter.”
So a large portion of the tourists who would have enjoyed trying out the new casino all summer now will not get that chance in the city’s warmest months of 2023. Economists focus on tourism dollars when it comes to gambling and other entertainment industries, because spending by local residents is limited to the amount of their disposable income.
As a result, the opening of a new sports facility, for example, may simply redirect dollars to the new location from other existing sports sites, from restaurants, or taverns. The net gain, then, is not as large as it might first appear.
Details on the Site of the Temporary Casino
Setting aside any disappointment from lost summer tourism dollars, the Bally’s casino at the 130,000 square-foot, century-old Medinah Temple site still will create plenty of excitement – and jobs – whenever it does open sometime this year.
Bally’s promises 750 slot machines and at least 50 table games to entice gamblers to the location.
At least 500 jobs are being created, and the casino operator has agreed to ensure than at least half of them will go to Chicago residents; at least 60% will be Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American; and more than 25% of construction contracts go to women- and minority-owned businesses.
The need for new business in the city was underscored by Bally’s receiving more than 10,000 applications for the jobs, according to company officials.
At its peak, city officials picture the permanent casino bringing in $200 million annually in taxes to a city that has significant financial problems. The Medinah Temple site will be open as a temporary casino for at least three years, Bally’s officials have said.
Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim recently told The Chicago Tribune:
” We’re in testing and regulatory mode. We’re just waiting to get through the final process so we can share [the casino] with the city of Chicago.”
Kim added that slot machines and table games already are being moved on-site. As is typical in the industry, Bally’s will have to first offer a “soft launch” that confirms for state regulators that all proper protocols are in place.
The temple was built in 1912 by the Shriners fraternal organization, and it once contained a three-level auditorium that had a seating capacity of 4,200. The site was repurposed as a Bloomingdale’s Home and Furniture Store in 2003 and closed in 2020.
Details on the Site of the Permanent Casino
By 2026 or 2027, the $1.7 billion permanent Bally’s casino is expected to open its doors at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. Construction on the 30-acre site has a mid-2024 start date, so any delay on that front will be an indicator that 2027 might be a more realistic target.
If consumer demand is as high as Bally officials hope, the Medinah Temple location could be quite crowded, and fans of Illinois gambling will be pleased.
The good news for local and visiting gamblers is that the permanent site will feature a much larger footprint of three to four times the temporary casino floor – with 3,400 slot machines and 175 table games along with a 500-room hotel, a bar on the roof, and a 3,000-seat theater as well as at least a dozen restaurants and an extension of the fabled Chicago Riverwalk.
The permanent casino in the River West neighborhood – just a few blocks away from the Medinah Temple location – will be built at the Freedom Center site, a 44-year-old printing plant where the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times newspapers as well as regional editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have been printed.
Bally’s purchased the site last November, and what in effect was a formal eviction notice was sent in February 2023. Tribune Publishing has agreed to relocate by July 2024, just ahead of the expected start of the casino construction.
The Bally’s bid was one of three of at least $1 billion – the others being by Hard Rock for a casino just north of the McCormick Place convention center and by Rivers for a gambling den in the South Loop area. Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose Bally’s in 2022.
A Chicago-based pinball machine manufacturer called Bally’s was founded in 1932, and some residents no doubt see that as a venerable company – one that eventually branched out into amusement parks and health clubs as well – coming full circle.
But this Bally’s has nothing to do with that pinball company. In 2020, Twin River Holdings – which operated two casinos in Rhode Island – purchased the rights to the Bally’s name from Caesars Entertainment and changed its name to Bally’s Corporation as it began a rapid expansion.
Within the next four years, Bally’s took over operations of 15 casinos in 10 states while featuring mobile sports betting apps in more than a dozen states. The company’s only existing casino in Illinois is Bally’s Quad Cities in the city of Rock Island located on the Mississippi River.
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