Bally’s Corporation has instructed the Chicago Tribune newsroom and printing plant to relocate within two years to make room for its upcoming Freedom Center casino. The move comes amid a dispute between the companies over a lease extension on the property. Meanwhile, Bally’s has received final approval for its temporary location while construction is underway on the main property.
After winning a bidding war last year, Bally’s was granted the exclusive privilege of operating a resort casino in downtown Chicago. It had proposed the west side of the Chicago River as the site of its new facility. The proposed project is expected to create thousands of jobs and generate approximately $200 million in tax revenue for the city and state annually.
As one of the initial steps, Bally’s purchased the land for $200 million in November 2022, becoming the Tribune‘s landlord. Later, Bally’s executed a sale and leaseback with Chicago-based Oak Street Real Estate Capital for $500 million to raise funds.
As part of its agreement with the city, Bally’s intends to launch a temporary casino in downtown Chicago. The operator is aiming to open it this year.
Giving the Tribune the Boot
Currently, Bally’s and Tribune Publishing are in arbitration over a 10-year lease extension that the plant is set to enter this summer. By invoking the contractual clause allowing it to eject the publisher from the premises, Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim says the company has rendered the issue moot.
Among other newspapers, the plant produces physical editions of the New York Times, which is a publication that has been highly critical of the gambling industry lately.
Bally’s also has close ties with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which once attempted to acquire Tribune Media, though this happened after the latter had spun off its publishing arm. That deal fell through and resulted in a breach of contract lawsuit Sinclair had to settle with Nexstar, which swooped in to acquire Tribune instead. It was then Nexstar that sold the Freedom Center site to Bally’s.
Despite this complex history between the companies, Bally’s has committed to helping the plant relocate, per the contract terms.
Bally’s Plans to Build the Area’s Largest Casino
Bally’s $1.7 billion casino resort project is expected to create around 3,000 construction jobs and another 3,000 permanent ones. The casino will open in 2026, featuring 3,400 real money slots and 170 table games, including poker, blackjack, and more. Outside the casino floor, there will be 10 food and beverage venues, a 500-room hotel tower, a 3,000-seat venue, a convention center, and a green space.
As part of the deal with the city, Bally’s Chicago is committing to diversity in both construction and permanent employment. It promises to award 46% of work to minority or women-led construction teams and 60% of all employment to minorities. Another commitment is 25% minority ownership of the project.
Additionally, Bally’s has agreed to create a job program targeting neighborhoods with the highest unemployment and lowest income. The program is also expected to develop a clear path for upward mobility.
Bally’s Wants to Open Its Temporary Casino in Summer 2023
While Bally’s Chicago might be a few years away, the operator aims to open a temporary casino this summer. It will be located in the Medinah Temple historic building in downtown Chicago.
The temporary casino plan calls for 800 slots, 50 table games, a restaurant, and multiple bars. It will be open 24/7. Bally’s originally planned to open the temporary casino at the Freedom Center. After lawmakers disapproved, Bally’s changed the location, much to the residents’ displeasure.
Earlier this month, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) approved two licenses related to the site. The licenses cover the building and the land it sits on. But the Illinois casino cannot open without a gaming license, which is still under review. IGB has a year to review it, plus an option for an extension.
While it’s unknown if Bally’s will get the gaming license by the summer, the company has already moved to staff its temporary casino. The operator has begun to look for 300 dealers with a starting pay of $9.50 per hour, plus potentially $25 to $45 an hour in tips. Also, it partnered with City Colleges of Chicago to provide a dealer training program. It will be free, and Bally’s will not pay participants but will consider them for jobs upon completion.