Bally Files Request to State for Chicago's First Casino

Bally’s filed its application with the Illinois Gaming Board on Wednesday, taking an important step in the process to build Chicago’s first casino and its fast-growing company’s flagship property.

The application is expected to be posted online Thursday morning, said Joe Miller, a spokesman for the gaming board.

The time is now ticking for the Rhode Island-based publicly traded company to obtain state license approval, finalize its proposal with the city’s planning department and open its casino on an ambitious timetable.

If all goes well, Chicago punters could be splitting aces and pulling slot levers in temporary quarters by next summer, but several hurdles remain.

the Bally’s proposal to build a $1.74 billion casino complex River West is expected to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue for the city, transform a 30-acre industrial site into a bustling entertainment destination and send the Chicago Tribune packing from its Freedom Center printing plant along the Chicago River. .

While the permanent casino is not expected to open before 2026, Bally plans to launch a temporary casino in the Medinah Temple by June 2023. That may require an accelerated process at the gaming board.

The state allows casinos to operate in a temporary facility for up to two years, with the ability to apply for an additional 12-month extension, before opening a permanent location. The most recent licensee, Hard Rock Casino Rockford, took 16 months to get preliminary approval from the board and two years to open a temporary casino.

Beyond logistical issues, there have been some push back to use the 110-year-old Medinah Temple, which was designated a Chicago landmark in 2001, as a temporary casino.

Preservation Futures, a Chicago-based historic preservation firm, sent a letter to the Chicago Landmarks Commission asking it to reject the adaptive reuse of the Medinah Temple as “inappropriate” and not “harmonious” with the public benefit of preservation. .

On Friday, the commission issued conditional approval for the plan, saying it would have “no adverse effect” on the landmark property.

Bally’s also has to navigate the Chicago Plan Commission, and ongoing neighborhood opposition, for final approval of your permanent casino. The River North Residents Association, which represents about 23,000 people who live near the proposed Bally’s site, is seeking significant adjustments to the plan.

The casino company has yet to exercise an option to buy the printing plant site from Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group, the owner of the nation’s largest television station, which acquired it in 2019 as part of its Purchase of Tribune Media for $4.1 billion — the former streaming father of Tribune Publishing.

Tribune Publishing is in talks with Nexstar to extend the lease on its printing plant, which expires in June 2023, for another 10 years. At the same time, Tribune’s parent company, hedge fund Alden Global Capital, has a contract to buy the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s recently idled printing plant in West Milwaukee.

When Bally’s buys the site, it will become the owner of Tribune Publishing and have the right to relocate the printing operations. Bally’s president, Soo Kim, previously told the Tribune that he would not rule out keeping the plant on its current site.

Kim is a founding partner of the New York hedge fund Standard General, the casino company’s largest shareholder.

One time Chicago-based casino operatorthe Bally name was purchased in 2020 by Twin River Holdings, the hedge-fund-controlled company that brought together a chain of 14 casinos in 10 states over the past decade, including Bally’s Quad Cities in Rock Island.

In March, Mayor Lori Lightfoot narrowed down five proposals to three finalists: Bally’s at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center, Rivers at The 78 in the South Loop, and Hard Rock at the proposed One Central development on the Near South Side. Bally edged out the other finalists to gain approval of the City Council in May.

The Chicago casino will be Bally’s biggest and most expensive property, prompting some analysts to question whether the company has the financial wherewithal to pull it off. In June, Fitch Ratings revised Bally’s outlook to negative from stable, citing the “execution risk” of the Chicago development.

Meanwhile, Cowen issued a more bullish outlook for Bally’s last month, saying the company “beat out industry heavyweights and local heroes” to win Chicago’s first casino license on “attractive” terms.

To help finance the development of Chicago, Bally’s entered into a sale-leaseback agreement last month with Gaming and Leisure Properties for its Bally’s Tiverton Casino & Hotel in Rhode Island and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, which will will bring the company $635 million.

“The sale and leaseback provides certainty of funds for the purchase of the land and the construction of the temporary project, as well as the ongoing expenses of developing the project,” Kim said Wednesday. “It’s a big step toward financing the property.”

AD Quig of the Chicago Tribune contributed.

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