Chicago’s plans to open a $1bn downtown casino by 2025 are under strain amid reports America’s biggest gambling operators are growing concerned the project is too expensive.

Officials are seeking a developer to purchase the rights for a casino in the city which it is hoped will raise revenues in order to ease Chicago’s underfunded pensions.

So far no one has come forward with a concrete bid despite exploratory work being carried out on five possible downtown locations.

And according to the Wall Street Journal, the issue for many of the country’s biggest gambling operators is cost.

Money is being pumped into the US gambling sector as legislation steadily passes across individual states to ease restrictions not just with land-based casinos & gaming and betting, but also online gambling.

And while the cost of a Chicago casino dwarfs that of other establishments in places like Las Vegas – Resorts World in Sin City recently opened its doors following a $4bn construction – developing a casino on the shores of Lake Michigan appears to be deterring suitors.

Chicago Casino Plan

Back in April 2021 the city’s mayor Lori Lightfoot outlined what Chicago was looking for in a casino developer. The successful bidder would be given the green light to create a resort that includes:

  • A casino floor
  • 500 hotel rooms
  • Restaurants
  • Bars

The license owner would also get to run the slot machines at both of Chicago’s airports, which in total would mean the operator would run a total of 4,000 “gaming positions” across the city.

The winning bidder is expected to be chosen in 2022 with the intention of opening in 2025. But Chicago may struggle to receive acceptable bids.

Concerns For Chicago Casino

The big worry for operators is the proposed cost of the development. A $300m Hard Rock Casino in Gary – 30 miles south of downtown Chicago – is considered a much more cost-effective investment. Another casino in Beloit near the Illinois border has also recently been approved.

Chicago has a $12.8bn budget and attracting revenues from a new casino would certainly help boost coffers down at city hall. It has been claimed a downtown casino and resort complex could bring in as much as $1bn a year.

Legislators have already approved a change to local tax structures in order to make the project more viable to bidders. However, whether that is enough to bring developers capable of building a mega-casino forward remains to be seen.

“We expect to have a very unique entertainment and gaming experience that you’re not going to find anywhere else in the region,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “That is certainly our expectation. We’re going to be driving toward that.”

Joe Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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