Three companies vying to construct an integrated resort in Chicago pitched their proposals to the public on Thursday as part of the selection process to obtain the city’s lone casino license.
Rush Street Gaming, Bally’s Corporation and Hard Rock International each submitted bids to operate a casino in the third largest U.S. city.
“I’m thrilled that we’ve reached this major step in the process in bringing a first-class casino-resort complex to our great city,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “Today is three decades in the making. It hasn’t been easy to reach this point and many people doubted that it could ever be done.”
Chicago-based Rush Street has been considered by many to be the favorite in the quest to obtain the license, although Lightfoot sought to dispel that notion during remarks earlier this year.
The company submitted two separate bids for the license. One would see Rush Street utilize existing buildings and infrastructure to operate a $1.3bn facility near the city’s McCormick Place convention center.
“We can deliver a fully functioning, fully operating casino and the associated amenities within 12 months of getting approvals,” said Scott Goodman, principal at Farpoint Development, a partner firm on the project. “That is a big distinguishing factor from the other bids.”
Rush Street’s other bid would see a $2bn facility constructed on the south side of Chicago in the so-called “78” neighborhood.
Bally’s Corporation also has submitted two bids, one for a $1.6bn project also near McCormack Place, and a second bid for a $1.8bn project in the River West neighborhood.
Rush Street and Bally’s have taken some swipes at their competitors, with Rush Street criticizing Bally’s proposal to construct the casino in multiple phases, while Bally’s has touted its bids as “conflict-free,” referencing Rush Street operating Rivers Casino Des Plaines, about 20 miles from downtown Chicago.
Rush Street chairman Neil Bluhm said Thursday that the company had no incentive to push players to the Des Plaines property, as the marginal tax rates between the two properties would be similar and Rush Street would own a larger share of the Chicago property than Rivers Des Plaines, which is majority owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated.
In addition, Bluhm said, if Rush Street were to win the bid, the city casino would have the benefit of the company’s existing customer database.
“If we lose the Chicago casino, whoever is running it will have to compete with Rivers, and Rivers will be a tough competitor because they have the name, customer list, etc.,” Bluhm said Thursday. “The bottom line is it’s a benefit for the city of Chicago to win this because instead of competing, you’ll be enjoying the benefits of the Rivers name and a big list of customers.”
The third competitor, Hard Rock, submitted one bid for a $1.7bn casino-resort as part of a larger project near Soldier Field, home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears.
Lightfoot said that following Thursday’s presentations, her administration would continue to get community feedback on the proposals, calling the public hearing “the beginning [of the process], not the ending.”
“There will be continued evaluations of the proposals, negotiations to obtain the best package for Chicago, and then we’ll present what we believe is the best proposal to our colleagues at City Council,” Lightfoot said.
She added that the city’s selection process would be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2022, and then it would go to the Illinois Gaming Board for the necessary licensing.
Lightfoot said that although the gaming board’s process was thorough, she hoped it would be “an expeditious and timely process” from a board that has been criticized by politicians in recent years for its slow pace in issuing licenses.
“The people that are here at the table are very well known in the industry, some have businesses that are already operating in Illinois and surrounding areas, so we hope the gaming board will understand the necessity and urgency of moving forward so we can have shovels in the ground as early as possible,” the mayor said.