Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Seeks Casino Input From Gaming Operators

Posted on: September 1, 2020, 10:20h. 

Last updated on: September 1, 2020, 12:45h.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit ideas and strategies for the city’s forthcoming integrated resort casino.

Chicago casino integrated resort Lightfoot
Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate, or “The Bean” to locals,  is a major tourism draw for Chicago, and the Windy City is betting on a casino resort to bring additional visitors to the shores of Lake Michigan. (Image: iStock)

The goal of the RFI is for city officials to receive perspective from integrated resort (IR) operators and real estate developers on key issues that will be considered when evaluating proposals for the lone casino license. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) signed legislation last year that authorized five regional commercial casinos in the Chicago suburbs, plus a larger IR complex downtown.

A feasibility study of the tax structure on the downtown casino resort concluded that the fees were too exorbitant to make the license an attractive investment opportunity. Pritzker then signed another bill that greatly reduced how much gaming revenue the city and state will receive from the resort.

Now, Lightfoot is seeking input from casino companies as to what conditions will further increase their likelihood of preparing a bid.

“This is the right time to begin having these discussions, as we continue to lay the foundation to make a strong recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lightfoot said.

Questions Arise 

Lightfoot’s RFI includes numerous inquiries. Questions include optimal location, having a temporary casino during construction, and what amenities would maximize the complex’s revenue potential.

The mayor is also asking what minimum acreage is needed for such a venue, how existing assets — including sports venues, hotels, and cultural attractions — could be implemented into the resort, and what the impact is of COVID-19.

Participating in the RFI process is not a condition to participating in the competitive bidding, Lightfoot explains. As the third most-populated metropolitan area in the US, with more than 9.5 million residents, Chicago represents the largest untapped gaming opportunity in the country.

Tax Cuts

Chicago’s gaming floor would be taxed at an effective rate of 72 percent, according to an IR feasibility review from the Las Vegas-based Union Gaming. That was due to a 33.3 percent “privilege tax” on the IR, something not placed on the regional casinos.

Lightfoot and the legislature worked together to reduce the rate to between 22.5 percent to 74.7 percent on slot machines, and between 15 percent and 35 percent on table games. The final rate is dependent on the casino’s total GGR.

“Lightfoot redoubled efforts and worked with the state legislature to amend the law to lower the tax rates and make a Chicago casino a reality, her office stated.

RFI answers are due to the city by October 21, 2020.