Bally’s Chicago Redesign Plans Submitted

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The year 2024 hasn’t gotten off to a good start for Bally’s plan to build a $1.7 billion Chicago casino resort (renderings pictured).

Recently, it was forced to relocate its planned space for a hotel tower on its downtown Chicago site because of construction issues, leading to this week’s submission of partly updated plans to city officials.

The River West development’s 500-room hotel tower required underwater construction for its foundations, as some of the planned build area is on reclaimed river land. Surveyors working on the preparations found that such a construction could damage critical city water infrastructure, and so the plans had to be changed.

After discovering the flaw in the design on January 22, Bally’s this week submitted initial updated plans to Chicago’s Department of Buildings. However, the full reworking of the proposal will take a few months to finalize.

The changes include a smaller main casino building and some aspects of the complex being shifted into the second phase of development, scheduled for after 2026.

Construction of the main phase is still on target for completion by 2026, Bally’s said. It recently gained a year-long extension from the Illinois Gaming Board on their build agreement.

The $1.7 billion Bally’s Chicago project has been under increased scrutiny in recent months for other reasons. The operator opened a temporary casino in downtown Chicago in the Medinah Temple area while it builds the permanent mega-resort. But so far, its revenues, while decent, haven’t met city expectations.

Plans Changed

Bally’s original plan was to build a 500-foot, 500-room hotel tower to accompany the casino on the north end of the site.

A 100-room hotel was planned for phase one, to be completed by 2026. Then the idea was to extend to 500 rooms in phase two.

However, that 100-room hotel will now be separate from the casino building, as the plan is to move it to the south side of the project. The full complement of 500 hotel rooms promised will be completed in the second phase in the new location.

Bally’s submitted the new 100-room plan this week. But it may take several months to plan the full tower.

The operator has spent hundreds of millions already on the project, and that’s being conservative.

It paid an undisclosed fee to Nexstar Media to purchase the riverside Freedom Center printing plant site in 2022. Then it paid a further $150 million to Tribune Publishing, owners of the Chicago Tribune, in order to expedite its departure from its current offices on the site.

It also paid the city of Chicago a $40 million upfront fee after being granted a license for the project by the administration of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Bally’s Problems

Bally’s initially had two years to open a permanent venue from the debut of its temporary venue in September 2023. However, that was recently extended until 2026.

The application for its extension came amid a series of controversies around the awarding of the contract for the venture and the performance of its temporary venue.

Bally’s reported a loss-making quarter in Q3 2023, with $3.5 billion in debt on top of that. The financial implications of that report for the Chicago project were questioned by local lawmakers in 2023.

Critics also noted that prior competitors for the license have been talking to federal investigators over their complaints about the process.

We reported last year that Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock International have spoken to the U.S. Attorney’s office over the issue.

Temporary Venue

The temporary Medinah Temple venue was also singled out by lawmakers for not hitting taxable revenue expectations, despite performing reasonably well among Illinois casinos since its debut.

Since opening the venue in September 2023, Bally’s Medinah Temple has made $30 million in revenues, from which it paid $3.9 million in local taxes, as well as $4.1 million in state taxes.

However, that has failed to hit the $3 million a month in projected taxes Lightfoot agreed upon with the operator.

The venue was actually the second-most popular Illinois casino by foot traffic in December, and came fourth among 15 casinos for revenues, despite only being a temporary operation.

Bally’s recently expanded the casino’s opening hours, set up a new shuttle bus service to various Chicago neighborhoods, and created new parking.

The full Bally’s Chicago casino complex, when it does open, will have much more besides the newly redesigned hotel tower.

The casino resort will feature 2,700 slots, 95 table games, the first Illinois retail sports betting location in Chicago, a 3,000-seat theater, and a 65,000-square-foot convention and event space.

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