Hard Rock Submits Bid for Chicago Resort Casino License – Update: Bally’s and Rush Street Gaming Also In

Posted on: October 29, 2021, 11:14h. 

Last updated on: October 29, 2021, 04:55h.

UPDATE: Proposals have also been received from Bally’s Corporation, which submitted two proposals for two different sites, and Rush Street Gaming, which submitted proposals for two different locations.

CINCINNATI – Efforts by Chicago officials to attract bidders for its downtown casino solicitation have apparently paid off.  Hard Rock International confirmed to Casino.org Friday it submitted a proposal for the city’s license.

Hard Rock Chicago
Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen shown speaking at the grand opening of the Hard Rock Casino in Cincinnati on Friday. Allen confirmed a short time later that Hard Rock submitted a bid for the city of Chicago’s casino proposal. (Image: Casino.org)

Hard Rock Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen said the Florida-based company would consider it “an honor” to get the license for the resort facility.

Submissions from interested parties are due by 2 pm CT Friday. On Aug. 6, city officials amended the request for proposals and pushed the deadline back more than two months.

Frankly, working with the city and understanding what they were looking for, not just a casino, but a true entertainment destination – obviously, no one in the world does it as well as Hard Rock,” Allen said at the grand opening celebration for the Hard Rock Cincinnati Casino. “So, we’re not suggesting we’re going to win. But certainly our brand is more than just gaming. And that’s something we think matters to the city of Chicago.”

Hard Rock was one of four gaming companies that responded last year to a request for information solicitation. Two others that submitted information, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, had said they would not pursue the opportunity prior to the extension.

The other company was Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, which has been considered the favorite by many. However, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said publicly there would be no home-field advantage. She also expressed hope that the opportunity would attract a Las Vegas-style attraction.

Chicago Wouldn’t Take Away from Hard Rock’s Regional Venues

Allen made headlines earlier this week when he said Hard Rock was interested in operating casinos just a few miles apart in New York City and northern New Jersey. Earlier this month at the Global Gaming Expo, he said the company was reconsidering pursuing the Chicago license and would be open to the right opportunity for a Las Vegas property.

The past couple of years have been marked by growth for Hard Rock. In May, Hard Rock Northern Indiana opened in Gary, and three months later, it became the majority owner of the $300 million project.

In June, the Illinois Gaming Board approved a temporary casino for Rockford, Ill., while a Hard Rock is built there. The short-term venue will not carry the Hard Rock name. It will be called Rockford Casino – A Hard Rock Opening Act.

While both the Gary and the permanent $310 million Rockford casino are in the Chicago area, Allen told Casino.org that Hard Rock’s “chameleon-like” ability to meld to the markets it serves means they won’t cannibalize each other.

“It can do so many different things,” he said. “The Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando is all about families. So, certainly, Gary and Rockford would be similar to Cincinnati, a little bit more regional-focused. Certainly, Chicago is an international city. Without getting into the details of our proposal, it is much larger, many, many billions (of dollars) as far as the project size itself.”

Tax Structure Stalled Chicago Casino Procurement

The Chicago casino solicitation faced delays right from the beginning, after Illinois lawmakers established the license in a 2019 expanded gaming bill that legalized sports betting, added casino licenses in areas around Chicago and places downstate, and also allowed racetracks to add casino gaming.

However, concerns about an effective tax rate north of 70 percent derailed the project. That tax rate was due to the combination of a gross receipts tax and a separate fee covering first responder pensions.

Led by Lightfoot, city officials lobbied state lawmakers to adjust the taxes, and the current rate is expected to be around 40 percent.

That allowed the city to release the RFP in April.

Under the initial schedule with an August deadline, the city was expected to pick a finalist by early 2022. It is uncertain when that would take place under the revised schedule.

City officials in the solicitation said they wanted a resort that included no more than 500 hotel rooms and 60,000 square feet of meeting space.