Bally’s temporary casino Medinah Temple bar.

A massive bar will greet customers at the entrance of Bally’s temporary casino at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

History over histrionics? Bally’s nods to Medinah’s past in Chicago casino plan: ‘It’s not going to be your bright, flashy casino’

The Sun-Times got an early look inside the River North casino that is expected to open by the end of summer. “Anyone can build a temporary casino, but not everyone gets a chance to build a temporary casino in a beautiful, historic building such as this,” said Mark Wong of Bally’s Chicago Casino.

From circuses and symphonies, to Daley and the Dalai Lama, to Bozo and Bloomingdale’s — and soon, to slot machines and Mississippi stud.

The historic Medinah Temple has hosted a range of characters and events over its 111-year history in River North, and its next chapter will likely be written this summer as the home of Chicago’s first casino.

In a matter of weeks, the reddish-brown brick fortress with its trademark copper onion-shaped domes and stained glass windows at the corner of Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue is expected to open its doors as Bally’s temporary gambling emporium, while the corporation builds its permanent casino in the River West neighborhood.

Glass partitions will separate guests from Medinah Temple’s famous stained-glass windows at Bally’s temporary casino.

Glass partitions will separate guests from Medinah Temple’s famous stained glass windows at Bally’s temporary casino.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

Bally’s gave the Sun-Times an early look Tuesday at the gaming temple-to-be, which, pending approval from state regulators, will likely be taking bets for the next three years until the lights are fired up at the permanent casino site at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

It’s a new look for the old bones of Medinah, designated a landmark by city officials in 2001 and greenlit for gambling by the City Council last year at the behest of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Bally’s Chicago Casino Medinah Temple Masonic frieze

A Masonic frieze adorns a wall inside Medinah Temple.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

“Anyone can build a temporary casino, but not everyone gets a chance to build a temporary casino in a beautiful, historic building such as this,” said Mark Wong, vice president and general manager of Bally’s Chicago Casino.

The temporary site’s main entrance is on the Wabash side of Medinah, which takes up almost an entire square city block.

Medinah Temple 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., pictured in July 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Crews started demolition on the interior in January, wiping out the building’s most recent previous identity as a Bloomingdale’s Home Store, which relocated in 2020.

The new layout is like a layer cake of casino games under Medinah’s rotunda, with escalators and glass-door elevators — both positioned in front of the walled-off temple stage — connecting three floors of temptations.

The Medinah Temple rotunda

The Medinah Temple rotunda.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

A massive bar creates “a great sense of arrival” for guests at the entrance, Wong said. The majority of Medinah’s roughly 750 slot machines take up the first floor, along with a cafe.

Workers were still positioning plastic-wrapped slots and table games Tuesday, less than a week after the Illinois Gaming Board issued a finding of “preliminary suitability” for Bally’s, an early approval that allows the company to install games and ramp up hiring.

Bally’s has to jump through other regulatory hurdles, including a gaming test run, before they can welcome gamblers, which it aims to do by the end of summer.

About 700 people will be on staff at Medinah by then, Wong said. The building has a maximum capacity of 3,500.

High rollers will be directed to the third floor of the casino. Besides higher buy-ins and a pair of restaurants, the top level features the best view of the Medinah rotunda, its ornate ceiling and the proscenium arch around the stage.

Bally’s Chicago Casino Medinah Temple workers rotunda

Bally’s workers admire the rotunda at Medinah Temple, which will house Chicago’s first casino later this summer.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

“It’s not going to be your bright, flashy casino. It’s going to keep the historic aspects in place,” said Christopher Jewett, Bally’s director of corporate development.

Chicago Daily News illustration Medinah Temple 1912.

A Chicago Daily News illustration marking the Medinah Temple’s opening in October 1912.

Sun-Times file

The Chicago Daily News called Medinah “the largest and most beautiful Shrine Temple in the world” when it opened in 1912 as an amphitheater and headquarters for the Masonic men’s fraternal organization now known as Shriners International.

Medinah Temple 1963.

Medinah Temple pictured in 1963.

Sun-Times file

It was the longtime home of the Shrine Circus, which brought elephants and bears to the stage through the 1990s, not to mention legendary WGN entertainer Bozo the Clown, who aired his 25th anniversary special from Medinah in 1986. Bozo also had a Medinah residency in 1995 with that year’s Shrine Circus.

Medinah has also seen its share of political circuses. Former Mayor Richard J. Daley rallied alongside then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter at the temple in 1976, and the younger Richard M. Daley stumped there for his ill-fated first mayoral run in 1983.

Medinah Temple Lutheran rally 1946 audience

A packed house at Medinah Temple watches a Lutheran rally in 1946.

Sun-Times file

And in 1996, the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso — accompanied by Buddhist actor Richard Gere — delivered an anti-war message from the Medinah stage, telling an audience of 4,200 that armed conflict was an “outmoded concept” because “if you hit another being, it is like hitting yourself.”

Developer Albert Friedman bought the temple from Macy’s in 2019. It became the surprise pick last year as the temporary casino for Bally’s, which initially floated a site adjacent to the permanent structure in River West before Lightfoot chose the company over two other finalists to run the Chicago casino.

Friedman was also the landlord for Lightfoot’s campaign offices.

cage casino cashier counter Bally’s Chicago Casino Medinah Temple

The “cage,” or casino cashier counter, at Bally’s temporary casino site inside Medinah Temple.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

Bally’s Chicago Casino Medinah Temple concessions counter

A quick-serve concessions counter at Bally’s temporary casino site inside Medinah Temple.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

Bally’s Chicago Casino Medinah Temple player services counter

The player services counter at Bally’s temporary casino site inside Medinah Temple.

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

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