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Illinois Prepares For A Glut Of Chicago Casino Proposals

A resort casino is coming to Chicago, the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area, and we may soon know the winner of the coveted license. According to a recent press release, the City of Chicago expects to issue its Request for Proposal (RFP) for the exclusive gaming license in early April.

The legislature first authorized the Chicago casino in 2019, but the project received tepid interest due to excessive burdens on the licensee. The legislature resolved those concerns in May 2020 by lowering the total tax rate from 72% to 40% and an amortized payment of the licensing fee.

The opportunity also includes the potential to operate up to 4,000 slot machines at O’Hare Airport, and the opportunity to offer mobile sports betting in Illinois.

The official timeline of the RFP will be announced in the coming weeks. That said, the casino isn’t expected to open until 2025, at the earliest.

The Opportunity

As the press release notes, “the single gaming license presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for gaming operators given Chicago’s unique attributes”:

  • Third largest metropolitan area in the country, largest in the Midwest, with over 9.5 million residents.
  • Global gateway and leading hub for domestic and international travel that welcomed 60 million domestic and 1.5 million international visitors in 2019.
  • More than three million working-age adults within a 50-minute commute to downtown Chicago.
  • Highly diversified economy with 400+ major corporate headquarters, offices, and facilities.
  • Vast scale and connectivity that provide an immense market to the gaming complex.
  • A robust public transit infrastructure unmatched in the broader Midwest region.
  • Vibrant and renowned cultural and restaurant scene that paves the way for gaming and broader development in a world-class city.

“Chicago is ready to become the home of a major casino-resort which will enhance our thriving entertainment and cultural scene,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “We’re excited to head into discussions with companies and partners who will help us develop the premier gaming and entertainment destination in our city and drive our economy in a transparent and equitable way.”

On the operator side, Chicago is one of the most exciting gambling opportunities in the country, trailing only Texas and New York City’s yet-to-be-realized casino possibilities.

Grant Govertsen, principal, Union Gaming, said, “The single Chicago license is among the best casino-resort development opportunities right now. COVID-19 casino shutdowns, financings to bolster balance sheets, and industry teams putting development plans on ice resulted in the Chicago casino opportunity largely flying under the radar last year. Now, the combination of available capital and attractive Chicago market metrics make the opportunity prime for a Las Vegas-style integrated resort.”

Who Is in the Running for the License?

The Chicago license will undoubtedly lead to a lot of interest and many proposals.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, two major players have shown different levels of interest in Chicago: Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts.

In a request for information issued last year, Wynn and MGM were joined by Illinois-based Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock International.  

“When a large city of significance decides to consider a gaming resort, we are interested. Chicago fits that profile,” Wynn spokesman Michael Weave told the Las Vegas Sun. Bet MGM played its cards closer to the vest, saying their response to a request for information didn’t mean the company was interested in developing a Chicago casino.

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