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Chicago Posts Solicitation for Long-Awaited Casino Project

The city of Chicago on Thursday released the highly anticipated request for proposals (RFP) for its casino license. The Windy City received it two years ago as part of the Illinois legislature’s expanded gaming law.

The Downtown Chicago skyline at night. On Thursday, city officials released a request for proposal solicitation seeking an operator to develop a casino in America’s third-largest city. (Image: Petr Kratochvil/PublicDomainPictures.net)

In a statement, the city said it wants to see a casino-resort open by 2025.

We look forward to collaborating with world-class operators to develop a premier entertainment destination that will catalyze growth in our dynamic economy, create sustainable, good-paying jobs for our workforce, and bring new financial opportunities to our businesses,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

Besides getting to build a casino in America’s third-largest city, the winner would also get a chance to place slot machines in Midway and O’Hare International airports.

Under the current time line, interested parties must submit their proposals by 2 pm CT on Aug. 23. In late September, the applicants will give public presentations about their proposals.

City officials expect to select the winner early next year.

What Chicago Wants

Among the city’s requirements for a resort casino are a hotel featuring no more than 500 rooms. It also must feature meeting spaces, as well as an entertainment venue, dining establishments, and bars.

While applicants will propose locations, the city wants to see what it calls an “architecturally significant” design that will help spur additional business attraction and growth.

Chicago leaders had hoped to issue the RFP earlier. However, officials raised concerns about the high tax rate associated with the casino project. That prompted lawmakers to revise the tax structure last year.

Besides jobs and business opportunities, city officials plan to use the tax revenue generated by the casino to pay into the pension fund for Chicago firefighters and police officers.

While there are numerous casinos in the Chicagoland area, the winning applicant will be the only one in a city that attracts more than 60 million visitors annually.

Who May Bid?

When the city last year released a request for information, a preliminary and optional solicitation designed to determine how much interest there is in a project, it received 11 responses. Among the casino operators that submitted were Hard Rock International, MGM Resorts International, Rush Street Gaming/Midwest Gaming and Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts.

MGM Growth Properties, a gaming-focused real estate investment trust, also submitted a response, as did four real estate development firms.

Given the size of the opportunity and the exclusivity, several other gaming companies may also consider submitting a bid. Last month, Lightfoot said she hoped several with “Las Vegas addresses” would get involved.

Of those respondents, six said they would be interested in operating a temporary casino while the permanent resort is constructed. The RFP currently states that the winning operator will be able to operate a temporary venue for 24 months while the permanent resort is built. There’s also the possibility for one 12-month extension on the temp structure as well.

Most of them said they prefer a downtown Chicago location for the permanent facility. However, one suggested a site near Lake Calumet near the Indiana border.

Chicago Casino Selection Process Just Beginning

Once the city picks a winning proposal, there will still be a lot of heavy lifting to do.

On the city side, the Chicago City Council will need to draft and pass an ordinance supporting the applicant. The applicant also must hold community meetings to garner feedback on their proposal and make changes as requested.

The city’s Plan Commission and the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards will also become involved.

In addition, the winner still must submit an application to the Illinois Gaming Board to ensure it meets the state’s standards for licensing.

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