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Bally’s Chicago casino receive approval for venue Medinah Temple

Bally's casino news

Illinois gambling regulators have given the first approval to the long-debated plans to make the Medinah Temple in River North a temporary venue for Chicago’s new Bally’s casino. The gaming developer hopes to open the interim gaming venue by June.

It is uncertain whether the casino’s ambitious timeline can be met because the Illinois Gaming Board will still be involved with the project. The state regulators will need to investigate and approve individuals involved in the project, from its most prominent investors to the several subcontractors hired.

Bally’s permanent casino site will be located at Chicago Avenue and Halsted, on the west side of the Chicago River. It will be built on the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant’s site and is expected to finish in 2026.

On Thursday, the gaming board voted 3-0 in favor of issuing supplier licenses to real estate developer Albert Friedman’s two corporate entities, which will be Bally’s new landlord at the historic venue. The century-old Shriner’s amphitheater was recently home to a Bloomingdale’s Home Store.

Hosting a contemporary casino in Medinah Temple was not Bally’s first choice; however, it sparked some controversy among critics. They noted the $6,000 contribution paid into Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign by Friedman almost two months before Bally’s submitted a letter of intent to use the River North landmark as a temporary gaming venue at the city’s urging.

The state’s gaming board on the Medinah Temple license applications was made aware of the campaign contribution. The approval on Thursday is just one public step of a long process that could take months or even years to complete.

Bally’s was approved as the Chicago casino licensee by the city council in May 2022. The operator’s Chicago casino representatives revealed the landmark building plans in July last year. Medinah Temple’s temporary casino will be in operation for around three years.

Only one out of the six newly authorized gaming venues in Illinois has begun operations since Gov. J.B Pritzker signed the measure. Hard Rock Casino Rockford opened its temporary casino side in November 2021, almost two years after the operator submitted its application to gambling regulators.

On Thursday, Marcus Fruchter, the gaming board administrator, highlighted the extensive investigation process currently underway by the state regulators but did not disclose the date for a hearing to determine Bally’s “preliminary suitability” to hold a casino license. This is one of the key requirements in order for construction to begin.

The administrator revealed that he would refrain from characterizing the investigation other than to inform the public that it was ongoing and that the gaming operator was cooperating with the IGB personnel.

“We will continue to adhere to the established process and follow the facts and the law wherever they lead us,” Fruchter said.

Last summer, Bally’s Senior Vice President of design and development, Joyen Vakil, responded to concerns from locals about the casino temporarily taking up space in the historic building and what this meant for its preservation.

Vakil explained that no changes would be made to the outside of the building besides replacing the signs put up for Bloomingdale’s Home store.

“We are making sure that the building doesn’t get impacted; the façade of the building is not impacted. We are making literally no changes to the outside of the building with the exception of changing the signs where the Bloomingdale sign existed,” Vakil said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated earlier that she hoped Bally’s temporary casino would start accepting patrons as early as this summer.

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