Disabling Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Choices For Chicago Casino

As city officials scrutinize the five competing proposals for a new Chicago casino, they will find themselves in a flurry of numbers and promises.

Cost estimates for each mega-complex range from $ 1.3 billion to $ 2 billion. Most provide for hundreds of hotel rooms, and some intrigue policymakers by talking about advance payments into city coffers if the license is granted.

One said in his presentation that it would be a top three entertainment attraction in Chicago, behind Navy Pier and Millennium Park. Others promise a “flagship destination for our city” or a “world-class resort destination”.

But key staff in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration could focus on just two rules: keeping it simple and accessible. These two factors will decide how quickly the city and its threadbare pension funds can begin to generate income, and whether large crowds will reach gaming stations and places of entertainment, thereby maximizing potential income. Civil servants are aiming for annual tax revenues of $ 200 million.

Based on this, some insiders believe the casino competition boils down to Neil Bluhm vs. Neil Bluhm.

Head of Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming and owner of the lucrative Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Bluhm is behind two proposals, each of which could benefit from few complications and a quick start. With the Related Midwest company, Bluhm wants a casino on vacant space on the development site known as The 78, southwest of Roosevelt and Clark.

It is close to the city center and the land is ready to be shoveled. But Bluhm hedged his bets, single-handedly offering a casino plan for the existing Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, the convention complex’s oldest and least used building. There is already a parking lot and extensive floors ready for slot machines and table games.

Nothing is certain, however. Bluhm has crossed swords with Lightfoot to allow sports betting in Chicago stadiums, arguing it would cut casino revenues the city needs.

“The person who plays the sport is most likely a player who also bets on tables and slot machines,” he said at a city council hearing. “It’s 20% of our business… This is not a hypothetical discussion. “

The mayor supports the expansion of sports betting. His deputy mayor for economic development, Samir Mayekar, said on Friday that 96% of sports betting takes place on mobile apps, not in casinos.

The other proposed sites – two from Bally’s and one from Hard Rock – could appeal to the administration and city council, which has the final say on the casino proposal that goes to the Illinois Gaming Board. But all of them have serious potential drawbacks.

“I think everyone sees this as Neil Bluhm’s game to lose. Lakeside Center is probably the less risky choice in town, ”said a developer with no vested interest in the casino’s bottom line.

He said Bluhm’s partner at The 78, Related Midwest, “has a lot of power in this market.” The company is part of a New York-based company whose president, Stephen Ross, “worked on the phones here,” the developer said.

A spokesperson said Bluhm was unavailable for comment on Friday. Associated declined comment.

Artist’s impression of a Chicago casino project to be located south of McCormick Place.
Provided by Bally’s Corporation

The Chicago convention complex was featured in two other casino offerings. Bally’s, which also submitted two proposals, used one to locate its casino in the McCormick Place truck yards at 31st Street and DuSable Lake Shore Drive. His other proposal would concern the Chicago Tribune printing site, near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, where the Tribune and the Sun-Times are published.

And Hard Rock, with its plans to integrate a casino into One Central’s proposed mega-development on the Metra tracks west of Soldier Field, viewed Lakeside Center as a temporary gaming venue.

The plans raise long-standing questions about whether conventions and acting are a good mix. Trade show managers suspect that blackjack and one-armed bandits will distract people from their income-generating events.

“A lot of show managers like it about McCormick Place: they know that when the vendors set up their stands, they’re going to attract an audience. Says a person versed in the field.

A render of a Hard Rock casino at the One Central development site near Soldier Field.

A render of a Hard Rock casino at the One Central development site near Soldier Field.

However, the meetings industry has yet to rebound from the pandemic, so some might be craving any solution that draws the crowds. There was no comment from Choose Chicago, the agency that promotes dating and tourism.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce will have a voice in the placement of casinos and has long advocated for a downtown site that helps hotels. Its chief executive officer, Jack Lavin, made no comment.

The Hard Rock proposal at One Central would build on developer Bob Dunn’s plan for a wall of towers to be built on the tracks. But it all hinges on a state-subsidized transit hub at an estimated cost of $ 6.5 billion that has come under scrutiny.

A source said town hall was intrigued by the two Bally’s proposals. But some consider that the Freedom Center site is too far from the city center to attract many people. “The traffic on Halsted is already a disaster at peak times,” said one developer.

And his plan for the truck yard would make the casino a neighbor to the redevelopment of the former Michael Reese Hospital property. Residents nearby and Ald. King Sophie (4e) strongly opposed a casino.

For anyone looking for architectural flourishes, the biggest offer is at 78. The plan includes a 1,000-foot observation tower – its rendering makes it look like a giant circular staircase. It’s almost as big as 875 North Michigan, the former John Hancock Center.

As part of its entertainment component, the plan promises to recreate Mr. Kelly’s, the legendary Rush Street nightclub that was a stopover for musicians and comedians traveling from coast to coast. It closed in 1975.

But the memories that fade will not lead to this decision. Dollars, crowds, and weight will.

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