Bally’s casino could open at Medinah Temple this weekend — if it aces practice sessions

Bally’s will run supervised practice gaming sessions this week with about 350 guests in its temporary casino at Medinah Temple in River North. If all goes well, the casino could open by Saturday.

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People walk by the site of the future Bally’s Casino Chicago at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

The future Bally’s Casino Chicago at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

All bets could be on in Chicago this weekend at Medinah Temple if all goes as planned for Bally’s over the next few days at the corporation’s temporary casino inside the historic River North landmark.

The city’s first legal slot machines are already visible through the glass doors of the soon-to-open casino at 600 N. Wabash Ave. — and they’ll be taken for their first spins Wednesday and Thursday during practice gaming sessions under the supervision of state gambling regulators.

As long as Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter approves of how the cards fall, casino leaders are hoping he’ll deal them a temporary operating permit as early as Saturday, a Bally’s spokesperson said.

People walk by the site of the future Bally’s Casino Chicago at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Bally’s Casino Chicago can hold about 3,200 people.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“We think we’re ready. We want to show them that we’re 110% ready,” Ameet Patel, Bally’s regional general manager, said outside the casino Tuesday. “This will be a proud moment for Chicago and everybody around this area.”

Bally’s gave reporters an early look inside the casino, which will welcome about 350 guests for the practice sessions — mostly family and friends of Bally’s leaders as well as contractors and other business partners, according to Mark Wong, the casino’s general manager. The building’s capacity is about 3,200.

Under the temple’s famed onion-shaped domes and past security at the main entrance on Wabash, guests are greeted with a full-service bar and a sea of slot machines, including video poker. About 420 of the casino’s roughly 750 slots are on the first floor, which also has a cafe.

The bar near the entrance of Bally’s temporary casino at Medinah Temple.

The bar near the entrance of Bally’s temporary casino at Medinah Temple

Provided by Bally’s

Escalators left over from the Bloomingdale’s store that was Medinah’s previous tenant take guests to the second gaming floor, which has another 200 slots plus 28 tables of craps, roulette and other typical casino offerings.

Bally’s maintained the temple’s stained-glass windows that date to its opening in 1912, as well as its dramatic vaulted dome ceiling that’s best viewed from the third floor, which has more slots and table games catering to high rollers.

The Medinah Temple rotunda

The Medinah Temple rotunda

Terence Crayton/Bally’s Chicago Casino

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

Aside from those distinctive features, the building looks and feels like a casino, from its red-and-blue splashed carpeting, to walls of TVs tuned to sports, as well as a pair of dining options off the gaming floor: an Asian fusion restaurant and the “Medinah Bistro.”

Bally’s has about 700 workers on staff at Medinah, including about 300 card dealers, who will be put to the test during the practice sessions to suss out “any material weaknesses, concerns or deficiencies” in “all phases of casino operations,” gaming board spokeswoman Beth Kaufman said. And even though it’s a test run, real money will be in play.

City officials have coveted those casino tax dollars for more than a generation, dating to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, as a potential savior for nearly insolvent police and firefighter pension funds.

Medinah is expected to churn out up to $50 million in revenue for the city annually for the duration of its three-year residency in River North, while Bally’s builds its permanent casino at the River West site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant.

The city is eventually hoping for up to $200 million per year in revenue from the permanent casino and its 3,400 slots. It’s expected to be completed in 2026.

Four other casinos have opened in Illinois since 2019, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation expanding gambling in the state.

Bally’s temporary casino will become the state’s 15th casino, in addition to more than 8,300 gas stations, restaurants, bars and other places where people can gamble on video slot machines.

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