Long-sought Chicago casino could open by Labor Day as Bally’s plan for temporary site clears state hurdle

The Illinois Gaming Board’s “preliminary suitability” finding allows Bally’s to lay the groundwork for operations both at the Medinah Temple in River North and the permanent $1.7 billion casino complex at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, expected to open by 2026.

SHARE Long-sought Chicago casino could open by Labor Day as Bally’s plan for temporary site clears state hurdle
State regulators gave preliminary approval to a plan for a temporary casino to open as early as this summer at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., pictured here in July 2022.

State regulators gave preliminary approval to a plan for a temporary casino to open as early as this summer at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., pictured here in July 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

All bets could be on in Chicago by the end of summer.

State regulators on Thursday handed down a key early approval to Bally’s Chicago casino plan, paving the way for the corporation to launch a temporary gambling house within a couple of months at the historic Medinah Temple in River North while it builds the permanent structure in River West.

The four-member Illinois Gaming Board voted unanimously on a finding of “preliminary suitability” for Rhode Island-based Bally’s, former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pick to spearhead the casino that had eluded generations of mayors before her.

Lightfoot pushed Bally’s plan through the City Council last spring after a contentious operator selection process, and the corporation applied for state approval last August.

While city officials originally aimed to fire up Bally’s bright lights — and start pumping revenue into the city’s depleted police and firefighter pension funds — by this month, the gaming board’s decision keeps the corporation on track to meet its target of inviting gamblers to Medinah, 600 N. Wabash Ave., later this summer.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Bally’s Chicago casino in River West.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed Bally’s Chicago casino in River West.

Provided

The gaming board’s “preliminary suitability” finding allows Bally’s to lay the groundwork for its operations both at Medinah, which is expected to be used for three years, and the permanent $1.7 billion casino complex it envisions at the site of the Chicago Tribune printing facility at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. The firm expects to open its final home in the second half of 2026.

“We asked the city and the community to bet on Bally’s, and like every good casino, we pay off winning bets,” Bally’s chairman Soo Kim said. “We have a lot of work ahead.”

Kim said the layout at the temporary site is “pretty much done” and that Bally’s is aiming to open its doors in six to eight weeks, meaning the first cards could be dealt in late July or early August. A Bally’s spokesperson later softened that timeframe, saying only that the company is “hoping for the end of summer upon the approval of the IGB gaming license.”

The company said it has received more than 11,000 job applications for the 700 positions they’re aiming to fill at Medinah.

Bally’s chairman Soo Kim, pictured in May 2022.

Bally’s chairman Soo Kim, pictured in May 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Before the gaming board vote, Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter called it “a very significant and important step” but noted that it “is not the final act in this opera.”

The curtain won’t rise until Bally’s meets Fruchter’s final set of regulatory hurdles, including a test run of its slots and table games, before the temporary Medinah site can open potentially in a matter of weeks. Kim said it depends on whether gaming board staffers can “keep up with us.”

“We want to move as quickly as we can,” he said, adding that the firm has all the games “sitting in a warehouse” ready to go.

An August launch would mark a quicker turnaround time for vetting by the gaming board compared to five other new casinos introduced elsewhere in Illinois since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion into law in 2019. Bally’s already owns an Illinois casino in Rock Island, in addition to 14 others nationwide.

Gambling meccas in Rockford, Waukegan and Danville have taken over a year from application to accepting bets. Another new casino is expected to open later this year in downstate Williamson County, followed by another slated for early next year on the border of south suburban Homewood and East Hazel Crest.

Marcus Fruchter, Illinois Gaming Board administrator.

Marcus Fruchter, Illinois Gaming Board administrator.

Victor Hilitski/For theSun-Times

But the Chicago mega-casino and its 4,000 allotted gaming positions — double the size of any other in Illinois — has long been pegged as the biggest gambling cash cow for city pensions and the state, which is earmarking new gambling revenue for a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan.

City budget officials project the casino to eventually pump $200 million per year into pension funds, which are estimated to have an unfunded liability of $33 billion.

The casino promises to serve as a lasting legacy of Lightfoot, who secured the Springfield support necessary to adjust its high tax rate in 2020 and bring the project to fruition.

Like plenty of other initiatives of the one-term mayor, it came with controversy.

Lightfoot abruptly named Bally’s as her operator last year from among three finalists without any substantial input from a City Council committee that ostensibly had been created by Lightfoot to handle all matters related to the long-coveted casino.

Bally’s plan is staunchly opposed by River North Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who has predicted a rise in crime and traffic around Medinah — a location selection he has slammed as an 11th-hour “switcheroo.”

The Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

State regulators gave preliminary approval to a plan for a temporary casino to open as early as this summer at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., pictured here in July 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Bally’s officials have said in public meetings that they initially wanted to build their temporary casino near the permanent River West site, but sources have said Lightfoot instead encouraged Bally’s to use Medinah.

It’s owned by Friedman Properties, which collected nearly $77,000 in rent-related payments since 2019 as the landlord for the offices of Lightfoot’s campaign fund, the Sun-Times has reported.

The former mayor’s office previously said it had “no involvement” in the Medinah site selection. Lightfoot also backed Bally’s traffic and public safety plans, while touting the $40 million up-front payment the company made to the city after receiving City Council approval.

Built in 1912 by the Shriners fraternal organization, Medinah Temple is known for its copper “onion domes,” colorful stained-glass windows and Moorish revival architectural design. It was the longtime home of the Shrine Circus and also hosted the Chicago symphony, college commencement exercises and most recently a Bloomingdale’s Home Store.

Kim, who said Bally’s has had “a good dialogue” with new Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office, invited opponents of the River North site to “come by Medinah and judge for yourself. ... I think you’ll like it.”

The Latest
The Wienermobile and a car were both going north on the tollway when the Wienermobile struck the car, lost control and rolled over, Illinois State Police said. No injuries were reported.
Stability was important for Cooney, whose dad is heading into his 13th season as Oswego’s head coach.
She played Harris several times as a guest on “SNL” in 2019, during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
Parent company Warner Bros. Discovery informed the league Monday that it will match the $1.8 billion per year offer by Amazon Prime Video. Turner has had an NBA package since 1984 and games have been on TNT since the network launched in 1988.
Birds rely on the moon and stars to travel, and bright lights from glass structures at night throw off their navigation. The $1.2 million project began in early June and will be completed before the fall migration.