Bally’s Temporary Chicago Casino Facing Time Crunch

Posted on: April 26, 2023, 06:27h. 

Last updated on: April 29, 2023, 02:06h.

Bally’s plans for a temporary casino at the Medinah Temple in the River North section of Chicago is up against a shortening timeline.

Medinah Temple
The Medinah Temple, located in Chicago’s downtown district, would serve as the temporary site for a Bally’s casino. There are delays in opening the venue. (Image: Friedman Properties)

The gaming company hoped to open the temporary venue, which will serve as a prelude to a $1.7 billion permanent casino-hotel, by the end of the second quarter. That’s June 30. But the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) meeting slated for Thursday, April 27, isn’t likely to address the matter of the Medinah Temple casino. And the IGB is not scheduled to meet in May.

As Crain’s Chicago Business reports, save for a special meeting to address the issue, the earliest the IGB could approve the short-term gaming venue is June 15. That makes a second-quarter launch difficult.

The matter of the nonpermanent venue and issues pertaining to the Bally’s $1.7 billion integrated resort in River West — the operator’s most expensive project to date — now resides with the IGB, not the city of Chicago.

Chicago Needs Temporary Up and Running Soon

Like Bally’s, Chicago wants the Medinah Temple casino operational as soon as possible for a simple reason: The city needs money.

Facing ballooning public pension obligations — one of the primary reasons Illinois policymakers approved Chicago casino plans — the Windy City will receive a portion of the $200 million in annual revenue the short-term gaming venue is forecast to generate. As Crain’s Chicago Business reports, those proceeds are to be directed to reducing old pension debt.

Last month, Illinois Policy noted that Chicago’s pension plans for firefighters, laborers, municipal workers, police and teachers are dealing with debt of $48 billion, or more than the retirement obligations of 44 states.

Property taxes in the third-largest US city more than doubled in a decade, with all those increases directed to cover pension liabilities. At the state level, Illinois’ $210 billion in pension is exceeded only by California, the nation’s largest state.

Bally’s Windy City casino is viewed as a job and revenue generator for the third-largest US city. By some estimates, Chicago residents spend $331 million annually at Indiana casinos, and the Bally’s venue could help the city retain $190 million of that sum. That’s meaningful to the city and Illinois, the country’s most financially imperiled large state.

Near-Term Outlook Murky

The IGB has a history of being mum on matters it’s yet to consider, and that track record pertains to the matter of the Medinah Temple gaming venue. That’s the board’s standard operating procedure and doesn’t imply approval or rejection of Bally’s plan.

If the board declines to address the topic at the June meeting, the timeline gets dicey because IGB’s subsequent confab is July 27. After that, the board meets just three times before the end of the year.

With six public pension plans with funding ratios below 60%, Chicago may not have the luxury of more delays on the temporary casino opening.