Bally’s lands full casino license, locks in Medinah Temple operation through 2026

Chicago
By Chicago 4 Min Read

State gambling regulators on Thursday dealt Bally’s its full license to take bets in Chicago, officially allowing the company to operate its temporary casino at the historic Medinah Temple for three years — and starting the clock to open a permanent gaming mecca in River West by September 2026.

Bally’s opened its doors to gamblers last month at 600 N. Wabash Ave. with a temporary permit issued by Illinois Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter. 

Gaming board members voted unanimously to grant Bally’s the license that now locks it into the $1.7 billion mega development they’ve envisioned at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, the plan that won over former Mayor Lori Lightfoot when she picked them last year over three other casino bidders.

The board also approved Bally’s request to extend its temporary operation at Medinah, a long-anticipated move for the Rhode Island-based corporation. State law gives casino operators two years to run a temporary site, with an optional 12-month extension while the permanent site is being built.

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That gives Bally’s until Sept. 9, 2026, to complete its 505,000-square-foot casino complex in River West.

It will have just over two years to meet that deadline. Construction isn’t expected to begin until July 2024, when Bally’s takes over the site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 777 W. Chicago Ave. under a lease agreement reached with Tribune Publishing.

“We’re all very confident that we’ll meet the timeline,” Bally’s Chicago general manager Mark Wong told gaming board members. “However, it is a huge project.”

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In the meantime, all bets are on at Medinah Temple, which has seen about 145,000 people walk through the turnstiles since opening, Wong said. The temporary site has about 800 slot machines and 56 table games; the permanent site is slated for 3,400 slots and 173 tables.

Bally’s made $6.7 million in its first three weeks at Medinah, generating about $695,000 in city tax revenue, all of which is earmarked for police and firefighter pension funds.

That’s on track to fall well short of projections laid out by Lightfoot shortly before she left office, when her budget team forecasted a $12.8 million cut of casino dollars for the city by the end of 2023.

The city is banking on upward of $34 million from Medinah next year and eventually $200 million per year from the permanent casino.

Bally’s will pay prolific River North landlord Albert Friedman more than $16.5 million in rent by the time its stay at Medinah is expected to end in 2026. The company is also on the hook for Medinah’s property taxes under the deal with Friedman, the Sun-Times previously revealed — a bill that has topped $1.1 million a year.

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