Bally’s Stakes Its Claim in the Windy City

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A view from the 360 Chicago observation deck (Photo by SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Bally’s has been tentatively selected as the winner of five proposals to build a shiny new gambling palace in the city of Chicago. However, the process is not yet finished and some believe the proposed site is not quite right.  

Is Bally’s Back to Its Roots

At one time Bally’s was a Chicago-based gaming entity but in 2020, a publicly-traded Rhode Island company, Twin River Holdings, bought the name and shortly thereafter plunked down $120 million to buy Jumer’s Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, Illinois.

The company subsequently renamed it Bally’s Quad Cities and landed a foothold in the state it once called home. 

But that purchase may have been more of a savvy public relations ploy rather than adding another casino to Bally’s burgeoning portfolio. After all, it doesn’t hurt to have a well-functioning casino property in the same state as the one you’re eyeing. 

However, the site was far enough away from the city that there would be no question as to where the company’s loyalties lay. Bally’s other competitors, Rivers and Hard Rock, did not enjoy that luxury.  

Rivers operates a casino in nearby Des Plaines while Hard Rock has a casino in Gary, Indiana, a 45-minute drive across the border. The fear was that, whichever company was chosen, their management team installed at the nearby casino would be battling for its own company’s Chicago customers.  

Whether the purchase of the Rock Island property, a three-hour drive west of Chicago, gave Bally’s a leg up on the competition, we may never know, but what we do know is that Bally’s is Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s choice to build the city’s first casino and provide a projected $200 million to the city’s coffers. 

The Bally’s Chicago casino will be the flagship of a company that has properties ranging from New Jersey to Nevada. The 47-year-old CEO, Soo Kim, built his empire by purchasing distressed properties at their lowest value and building them up. Buy low – sell high. 

 “During COVID, we went shopping and we bought 10 casinos,” said Kim. “We bought the brand name as part of one of the purchases, and that really changed our company in a big way.” 

Venue in Question 

The Bally’s bid will still need the blessing of the majority of aldermen at the City Council and must then gain approval from the Illinois Gaming Board before any ground is broken. But some have deemed Bally’s inner-city site far from ideal and local residents are protesting the venue. 

The precise location for the permanent facility is the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant in River West. The plant will be demolished to make room for the $1.74 billion gambling and entertainment complex proposed by Bally’s.

After whittling down the five proposals, three remained on the table, with Bally’s as well as the Rivers proposal at The 78 in the South Loop while Hard Rock proposed a site at the One Central development on the Near South Side. 

In selecting Bally’s, Lightfoot stated in a news release, “We are confident that Bally’s Tribune Publishing Center development will shore up the city’s pension funds, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and lead to a bright financial future for our city.”  

How Many Jobs Will Be Created?

Approximately 3000 construction and 3000 permanent casino jobs will be created from the venture. Yet, there is still much debate regarding the location. 

Chris Grove, a partner with Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, and coincidentally a River North resident said, “I think there are some serious questions that still need to be answered about how you move people in and out of that area efficiently in a way that feels like a positive experience to them. And as a local, I don’t see obvious answers to that challenge with infrastructure as it is.” 

Yet, Grove also noted that the Bally’s site would be preferable for business and tourist travel to the city when he stated, “I don’t know that a trip out to Des Plaines or a trip over to Hammond is really in the itinerary of someone coming to Chicago for a weekend or coming in for a convention for a couple of days. But you put a casino in the city, and all of a sudden that becomes a lot easier to make.”