Bally's Gets Extension To Operate Temporary Casino In Chicago

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Bally's Gets Extension To Operate Temporary Casino In Chicago
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Bally’s was granted a 12-month extension to conduct casino gaming at its temporary venue at Medinah Temple in Chicago by the Illinois Gaming Board on Tuesday, widening its timetable to open its permanent venue in the River West neighborhood to September 2026.

The board’s 3-0 vote followed a presentation by Bally’s Vice President and General Manager Mark Wong covering the company’s seven-plus weeks of initial operation in Chicago. Wong referred to more than 145,000 admissions at the River North casino since its Sept. 9 opening and close to $6.7 million in adjusted gross revenue generated during the first 24 days of operation.

IGB Chairman Charles Schmadeke praised Bally’s, saying, “From our concern, gaming is supposed to benefit the entire state, so I encourage diversity, and you’re following through from what I can tell and I appreciate that very much.”

It was a day of double good news for Bally’s, which also was granted a casino owner’s license for four years along with Golden Nugget in Danville and Walker’s Bluff in Williamson County. All three locations were among the six granted new casino licenses created in the 2019 gaming expansion act that also legalized sports wagering in Illinois.

Among existing casinos, Argosy Casino Alton was granted a four-year license renewal. All four casinos’ licenses run through October 2027.

IGB finds Bally’s showing good cause to earn extension

Illinois state law requires a casino operator to open a permanent venue within two years of being granted the temporary operating permit that allows the start of the wagering, but a licensee can seek a 12-month extension from the IGB if it shows “good cause” with regards to progress being made toward that permanent venue. Bally’s made a quick turnaround from being deemed “preliminary suitable” by the board in June to launch early last month.

Additionally, two other operators — Hard Rock and Full House Resorts — sought and were granted 12-month extensions as they build permanent venues in Rockford and Waukegan, respectively. Both are also currently operating temporary casinos in those cities, with Hard Rock the first of the six new locations to start wagering in November 2021 and Full House doing likewise in February.

Bally’s has yet to break ground for its $1.7 billion casino at the Tribune plant in River West since it will not take over that lease until next July. It was expected Bally’s would seek the one-year extension to operate at Medinah Temple even before the sometimes bruising negotiations to acquire the lease from Tribune Publishing owner Alden Global Capital were completed in May.

Wong pointed out Bally’s was exceeding hiring targets when it came to minority, women, disability, and local-based hiring. He said 82% of its hirings were minorities, well above the 60% goal. Women constituted 53% of the workforce, while workers with disabilities comprised 10%. The 600 Chicago-based workers were 20% above the original goal, amounting to 61% of its overall total.

Not being able to begin construction in earnest until the second half of next year was an inquiry point for IGB Administrator Marcus Fruchter, who asked Wong if Bally’s would be able to complete work before the proposed September 2026 deadline. Wong replied that Bally’s felt “very confident” it could meet that deadline but did concede it would probably take “every bit the two, two-and-a-half years we are required to deliver first.”

In addition to the 12-month extension, it is possible the IGB could be permitted to offer another such extension in the future. SB 0584, which passed out of the state Senate during this week’s veto session in the General Assembly and was delivered to the House on Wednesday, has an amendment giving the IGB such latitude. House Speaker Emanuel Welch signed on as chief sponsor, raising the possibility it could be brought for a vote during the final veto session next week.

Solid starts for downstate newcomers

Golden Nugget was the first of the six new venues to open a permanent casino in Illinois, doing so in late May before having its grand opening at full speed in August. It generated more than $12 million in adjusted gross revenue spanning 124 days from late May through September, with nearly 92% of that total originating from slots.

Danville Development President Jimmy Wilmot pointed out Golden Nugget hired 85 people in a two-month stretch prior to the expansion to its current operations of 20 hours daily, and it is still looking for another 20 to 30 dealers to bring the total number of hires to approximately 275. Women make up 60% of the staff, with just over half local to the Danville area.

New General Manager Jahnae Erpenbach — a 30-year veteran of the casino industry in both Illinois and Indiana — outlined a bold approach by Golden Nugget to increase its customer database four-fold. It was highlighted by increased marketing in the Champaign area and by proactively courting Terre Haute bettors as Churchill Downs Inc. continues to build a casino there just over the state line.

Closer to the Missouri and Kentucky state lines, Walker’s Bluff averaged nearly 1,000 daily admissions in its first 39 days of business following its Aug. 24 opening. It generated more than $3.7 million in adjusted revenue in that span, with close to 87% of that amount coming from slots.

Regional Vice President of Elite Casino Resorts Mo Hyder said Walker’s Bluff is also looking to complete its staffing, which is approximately 65 shy of 400, and he said things are “progressing well” at the two-month point. He added Walker’s Bluff has enjoyed strong community support for the $180 million casino and is already looking to upgrade some of its slot titles.

“With today’s licensing actions, the IGB has opened and licensed five new casinos since November of 2021 in Rockford, Waukegan, Danville, Carterville, and Chicago in addition to its other regulatory and law enforcement work,” Fruchter said. “During this period of unprecedented growth and expansion, the staff and board members of the IGB remained steadfast in our commitment to ensuring the ethics, compliance, integrity, safety, and transparency of Illinois gaming and we will continue to do so.”