Chicago Casino Bidding Begins in April, City Hopes for Major Las Vegas Players

Posted on: March 10, 2021, 11:28h. 

Last updated on: March 10, 2021, 12:45h.

The City of Chicago plans to open what’s expected to be a bidding war for its lone integrated resort (IR) casino license early next month.

Chicago casino Lightfoot Las Vegas
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, seen here in 2019, hopes to bring a little bit of Las Vegas to her city. Next month, Chicago will begin fielding casino proposals. (Image: Getty)

Chicago officials revealed this week that they expect the request for proposal (RFP) period to begin in the first half of April. A single IR gaming license was authorized under 2019 legislation signed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D). Along with the downtown casino resort, five smaller casinos were approved in the Chicago suburbs of Waukegan, Rockford, South Suburbs, Williamson County, and Danville.

The RFP will include required specifics that each interested casino developer must include.

“We want to make sure that we put out an RFP that’s going to be attractive to some of the top gaming ventures in the world, so for us, the sky’s the limit,” Lightfoot said this week. Lightfoot hopes the top casino operators in Nevada make a move to win the Windy City IR license in Illinois. 

I don’t want to name names, but obviously there are some that we would be very excited if they applied,” the mayor said. “My hope is that many of them will have Las Vegas addresses.” 

She added, however, that the RFP review will be “completely open and transparent,” and that she and the city council will not be “putting our thumb on the scale for anyone.”

Lightfoot’s comments likely won’t be well-received by Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming. The gaming firm owns Rivers-branded casinos in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. It’s also in development on a Rivers casino in Virginia. 

Chicago Casino Opportunity 

With approximately 2.7 million residents, Chicago ranks third behind only New York City and Los Angeles in terms of the largest US cities by population. However, a 2019 feasibility study regarding the downtown Chicago casino determined the resort would likely struggle.   

The review concluded that the casino would be taxed at an effective rate of 72 percent, and the resort would make “pennies on the dollar” in a best-case scenario. In response, Lightfoot successfully petitioned the state to lower the gaming tax structure for the IR, and that’s revitalized interest among casino giants.

Rush Street, Hard Rock, MGM Resorts, and Wynn Resorts are a few of the companies that responded to Chicago’s request for information (RFI) last year. They expressed specifics as to what would make the IR appealing. 

The RFI consensus was that the IR should be centrally located downtown on 10-25 acres, and the gaming floor should measure between 100,000-200,000 square feet. The development should feature a hotel, convention and entertainment space, and adequate parking. 

Lightfoot expressed her eagerness to see what Las Vegas envisions for Chicago. 

“I think we’ve got a tremendous amount to offer and particularly for some of the more experienced gaming interests that do have Las Vegas as their home address,” the mayor stated. “Las Vegas is the epicenter of all things gaming. In my view, Las Vegas is the gold standard of casino gaming.”

Big City Casinos

The US gaming industry continues to recover from COVID-19. But in the coming years, there are potential goldmines on the table.

Along with Chicago, the industry is lobbying New York lawmakers to lift a moratorium on allowing a casino resort to be built in Manhattan. For now, Chicago is the US gaming industry’s biggest market opportunity. 

“The Chicago license is among the best casino resort development opportunities right now,” said Union Gaming Principal Grant Govertsen. Union Gaming was the analytical firm that conducted the Chicago casino feasibility review.