As expected, Chicago officials announced on Friday afternoon that the deadline to submit proposals for the city’s planned casino has been extended by more than nine weeks.
The new deadline is Oct. 29 at 2 pm CT. In April, when city officials released the request for proposals for the development project, they requested documents by 2 pm CT on Aug. 23, two weeks from this Monday.
However, as Crain’s Chicago Business reported earlier this week, the possibility of just one company submitting a proposal was becoming a stronger likelihood after MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts – two of the four gaming companies that responded to a preliminary request for information last year – publicly disclosed they would pass on the opportunity.
With the clock winding down, Crain’s reported other operators expressed interest but needed more time.
In a statement, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the extra time will allow those considering a bid to do more research into the opportunities and work to secure financing for what will likely be a billion-dollar development based on officials’ desire for it to be built in or near downtown.
Extending the deadline for interested bidders will allow the city to collect as many robust, impactful and transformative proposals as possible,” Lightfoot said. “I look forward to seeing these bids roll in and working very closely with whichever team is ultimately chosen to develop Chicago’s first-ever casino.”
In addition to extending the proposal submission period, Chicago officials will allow one more question-and-answer period, with new questions about the solicitation due to the city on Oct. 1 by 5 pm CT.
Is There a Favorite for Chicago’s Casino?
The one company that’s been expected to bid on the casino is Rush Street Gaming, a locally based company that also responded to the RFI. Led by Chairman Neil Bluhm, Rush Street operates Rivers Casinos, which are located in Des Plaines, IL; Schenectady, NY; Pittsburgh; and Philadelphia.
A message to a Rush Street spokesperson was not immediately returned on Friday.
The Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, a Chicago suburb near O’Hare International Airport, is currently the largest in the state. Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. owns the majority stake in the venue, with Rush Street owning the remainder.
While Rush Street is a Chicago company, there are other local connections that may give officials some pause should it be the only bidder for the casino license. According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Leslie Bluhm and Meredith Bluhm-Wolf, both daughters of Neil Bluhm, contributed a combined $212,500 to Lightfoot’s 2019 successful mayoral campaign.
In addition, when Chicago magazine placed Leslie Bluhm in its 50 Most Powerful Women in Chicago listing last year, it noted Lightfoot was a “law school pal” and that the co-founder of a prominent Chicago nonprofit service organization was “childhood friends” with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Those relationships as well as her “billionaire dad” show that “Bluhm has the kind of access to funding and policy-makers that opens doors,” the magazine wrote.
When the city released the RFP nearly four months ago, Lightfoot said she hoped the opportunity would garner interest from major Las Vegas operators and that the review process would be open and transparent.
MGM and Wynn were the only Las Vegas-based gaming companies to respond to the RFI. Besides Rush Street, Hard Rock International was the other to respond. However, an RFI submission was not a prerequisite to respond to the RFP.
Impact of Extension
The extension will almost certainly cause a delay in the selection process. Based on the timeline in the original solicitation, public presentations from bidders were slated to start in late September. Chicago officials would then identify one or more bidders in the fall to become finalists
Under that schedule, the city would have selected a final applicant in early 2022 that would have needed to be approved by the Chicago City Council and, ultimately, the Illinois Gaming Board.
Bidders also have the option to submit a proposal to operate slot machines at both O’Hare and Midway airports.
One of the biggest challenges facing Chicago’s casino project is the tax rate tied to revenues. When the expanded gaming law granting the city a license passed in 2019, the combination of the gross receipts tax and another levy to cover first responder pensions established an effective tax rate of 72 percent. Lightfoot worked with lawmakers in Springfield to lower that to about 40 percent.
The city also said it prefers working with an operator that will build the entire project in a single phase with such amenities as a 500-room hotel to go with the casino. The goal is to have the permanent facility open by 2025, although a temporary venue could open sooner upon the state issuing the license.
“This historic casino project stands to expand the economic vibrancy and strength of our city by bringing sustainable, good-paying jobs to residents from underrepresented backgrounds and creating a world-class casino-resort that attracts visitors from all over,” Lightfoot said in the release.
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