Downtown Chicago has finally welcomed Bally’s as its first legal brick-and-mortar casino. On Sep. 9, following an inspection by the Illinois Gaming Board and a two-day test run, Bally’s Chicago opened the doors of its temporary location to a line of excited players.
Despite earlier expectations of 24/7 gambling, the temporary location will be closed between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. daily. It features nearly 800 slots and 56 table games spread across three floors of what used to be the Medinah Temple department store on North Wabash Avenue. It also offers two restaurants, two full-service bars, and a coffee shop.
Bally’s plans to operate its casino at the Medinah Temple location for the next three years. In the meantime, it is working on a permanent resort in the River West neighborhood, with completion scheduled for 2026.
Some local organizations opposed having a casino at Medinah Temple. Nonetheless, feedback about the grand opening was largely positive, as it generated excitement from locals and visitors alike. It’s expected to contribute millions in tax revenue to the city and state, as well as employment opportunities.
For Bally’s, the retail casino is also a way to secure market access to Illinois sports betting. That may also extend to online casino gaming if legislators successfully pass the Internet Gaming Act in the next legislative session.
A Lot of Excitement Surrounded the Opening
According to local news reports, people started lining up as early as 6 a.m. By the time of the 8 a.m. opening, the line stretched around the block. Many of those standing in line expressed excitement about having a casino in the city. They added that they would rather spend their money close to home than outside Chicago. Previously, the closest commercial casinos were Rivers Casino in the satellite suburb of Des Plaines and Caesars’ Horseshoe Hammond just across the Indiana border.
But not everyone shared the excitement. Some resident organizations, like the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, have raised concerns. They say the casino could increase traffic congestion and crime around the neighborhood and in public transportation. They also added it will make parking a challenge.
Casino’s Tax Revenue Will Go Towards Pension Funds
Bally’s Chicago project is raising millions in revenue for the city. The operator paid Chicago $40 million upfront for the winning bid. Additionally, within 30 days of the casino’s opening, Bally’s will pay a further $135 million in fees to the Illinois Gaming Board. That money will go towards state infrastructure projects.
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson said the tax revenue from the Medinah Temple casino will support the city’s police and firefighter pensions. City officials hope to get as much as $55 million annually from the casino. That source of income is critical for Chicago as the city faces a $48 billion deficit in pension plans.
Bally’s Permanent Casino Aims for 2026 Opening
With the temporary casino up and running, Bally’s can focus on its big permanent casino project. The $1.7 billion development is scheduled for a 2026 opening. It will be located at the site of the Freedom West building, the former home to the Chicago Tribune printing plant, which has been forced to relocate by Bally’s.
The printing plant was a significant hurdle for Bally’s project, as the Tribune had just renewed a 10-year lease on the property. However, the two parties found a solution earlier this year, and Bally’s can start construction next year.
Once completed, the permanent Bally’s Chicago will be roughly four times the size of the temporary location, featuring 3,400 slots and 170 table games. The casino, plus the additional hotel and venue, are expected to provide over 3,000 permanent jobs and a similar number during its construction. Furthermore, the city of Chicago hopes Bally’s Chicago could bring as much as $200 million in annual tax revenue.