Lightfoot cuts Chicago casino deck to 3 finalists

The three finalists vying for Chicago’s only casino license propose to offer between 2,600 and 3,400 slot machines and about 170 table games.

Each also promises live entertainment venues, a new hotel, and up to eight restaurants — and some local chef entrepreneurs want a piece of that pie.

Sam Toia, of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said his group wants to know, "how can (the new casino) make this profitable also for some of our restaurants? Like in Chatham, or in Jefferson park or in Little Village?"

Toia said he hopes such local restaurants will have a presence in whatever gambling complex is eventually built.

Each of the three finalists promise to spend more than $1.5 billion.

Hard Rock promises to generate the most jobs — 16,600 during construction and then 3,140 permanent jobs at a site just west of DuSable Lake Shore Drive near Soldier Field.

A proposed Rivers Casino near the Chicago River and Roosevelt Road promises about 4,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs.

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Bally's Corporation would build near the Chicago Tribune printing plant at Chicago Avenue and the Chicago River, promising to hire 9,700 workers during construction and 2,000 permanently.

Downtown casinos in some other Midwestern cities have notably failed to generate customers for other businesses nearby. Supporters here say Chicago’s gambling complex will be more ambitious than, say, downtown Cleveland’s defunct department store converted to a casino.

"There's been debate that it really doesn't bring customers," said Toia. "I do believe it will."

Three evening public hearings are planned, each from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. First up is the Hard Rock Casino proposal on April 5th at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State.

A hearing on the Bally’s Tribune site is scheduled for April 6th at 700 W. Chicago Ave.

The Rivers proposal will be heard April 7th at 725 W. Roosevelt Road.

While Mayor Lori Lightfoot had previously said she wanted to pick one finalist by the end of March to recommend to state regulators who have the final say on issuing a casino license, officials now say that decision won’t be made at least until early summer.

Jennie Huang Bennett, the city’s chief financial officer, said the lengthy process — now approaching three years since state legislators paved the way for a Chicago casino — comes down to getting more community input.

"If we had selected one site without having had further engagement within the community then, I think that would have been very difficult for us to hold to the values of transparency and community engagement that we do with every major development," Bennett said.

In a statement, Lightfoot said the three remaining finalists "best fit the core goals we want to achieve for the City’s first integrated casino-resort."

Chief among those is generating cash for Chicago’s depleted police and firefighter pension funds, which are where the city’s cut of casino tax revenue will go.


The city estimates the Bally’s Tribune site would deliver $176.9 million or $191.7 million to city coffers each year, depending on how big of a hotel they’d build. Their nearly $1.8 billion plan at 777 W. Chicago Ave. calls for 2,700 slots, 95 table games, a "Second City" club and a Chicago sports museum.

The Hard Rock site would crank out an estimated $185.3 million for the city annually. Their $1.7 billion plan includes a hotel and live music venue — and could come to fruition even in the absence of more than $6 billion in state funding that developer Bob Dunn is seeking for the rest of the ambitious One Central project.

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City revenue estimates for the Rivers 78 site on the vacant land south of Roosevelt Road and west of Clark Street start at $146.5 million annually, or up to $174.2 million if developers include the massive hotel and 1,000-foot observation tower that Related Midwest president Curt Bailey has sold as "an Eiffel Tower for Chicago." The project would include about $1.7 billion in investments.

The remaining finalists have each faced some criticism from neighborhood groups citing environmental concerns, traffic headaches and studies that show crime often spikes in areas surrounding casinos.

Those issues and more are sure to surface at public meetings scheduled for next month, which will also be streamed online.

The city will negotiate with each of the finalists and then pick one to present for City Council approval.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.