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Chicago Casino Bidding Will Be ‘Wide Open,’ Mayor Reaffirms

Chicago Casino Bidding Will Be ‘Wide Open,’ Mayor Reaffirms article feature image

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images. Pictured: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The bidding on Chicago’s integrated casino resort will be “wide open,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told a gaming industry conference Monday, reaffirming her commitment to what she called a fair and transparent process for one of the most significant brick-and-mortar gaming developments in U.S. history.

Speaking at the summer meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS), Lightfoot said the proposed casino and entertainment district development winner will have a “once in a generation opportunity.”

Lightfoot said there would be no “hometown favorite” in the bidding process, a possible reference to Chicago-based Rush Street Interactive, whose Des Plaines facility is currently the closest casino to the city’s downtown.

“We want to make sure that we get the best-in-class opportunities for (any operator) across the country that understands the value of being in a city like Chicago,” Lightfoot said during a speech to NCLGS attendees Monday.

“This is a significant milestone in both our city’s history and our journey with COVID-19 as an entertainment district like this will reap numerous rewards for our city’s economy.”

Casino Details

Lightfoot said the new casino project will fuel thousands of jobs and create hundreds of billions in new gaming revenues for both the city and state that would have otherwise been lost. She referenced Chicagoans crossing over to gambling in Indiana as a major impetus for the new casino.

The city issued its request for proposals in April and will close applications next month. Finalists are expected to be announced next year.

The winning bidder can select its casino location, subject to city approval. Though it’s far too early to project a final location, multiple bidders have inquired about a location near Chicago’s downtown.

Lightfoot said the winning bid will maximize tax revenues for the city. She said it will also have to integrate well with its existing community, meet high-level architectural standards and earn LEED certification.

She stressed further that the winning casino project must ensure good pay and sustainable jobs, especially for the disadvantaged, and would need to spark additional employment opportunities for existing Chicago-based businesses.

Illinois Gaming Growth

Illinois is already one of the nation’s largest per capita and gross gaming markets, with 10 casinos as well as roughly 40,000 thousand video gaming terminals across 8,000 locations statewide. In 2019 the state passed another sweeping gaming expansion bill that legalized online and retail sports betting and authorized the Chicago casino.

Lawmakers are also considering online casino gaming legislation, though current legislative efforts have gained minimal traction in the legislature.

Illinois grossed $2 billion in sports betting handle in 2020, the fourth-highest total of any state that year. The state is on pace for $7 billion in gross sports betting handle in 2021, which would make it the second-largest market, after New Jersey.

There are six live digital sportsbooks in Illinois; FanDuel, DraftKings, BetRivers, William Hill, Barstool Sports and PointsBet.

Nevada and Illinois are the only states that require in-person registration for online sportsbooks. Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended the requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic last summer, but allowed it to lapse in April 2021, re-instituting the in-person registration mandate.

The new Chicago casino would create another major opportunity for sports betting and casino gambling in general. The opening is likely years away, but it already rises as a new milestone for legal gaming in Illinois and the national market overall.

“While much work remains, this project is an important step in the right direction, as it will not only generate and expand our communities’ access to social-economic opportunities but ensure the prosperity of our city for years to come,” Lightfoot said Monday.

“It will also serve as an example to executives of legislatures around the country that highlights their ability and responsibility to invest in our cities and the well-being of our residents.”

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