Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has identified five potential city casino sites, including two very close to Northwest Indiana, for a consultant to evaluate over the next 45 days to determine the financial viability of each location.
The sites near Indiana are the Harborside development at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Expressway, and the former U.S. Steel South Works at 80th Street and Lake Shore Drive.
Harborside is seven miles from the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond that mostly has served Chicago-based patrons since 1996. The U.S. Steel site, along Lake Michigan, is just five miles from the Horseshoe.
The consultant, Union Gaming, will assess two additional south side locations, near the Chicago White Sox ballpark at Pershing Road and State Street, and the former Michael Reese Hospital at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, along with one west side site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.
No potential casino locations in downtown Chicago, including Navy Pier or the McCormick Place convention center, are due to be included in the assessment.
Lightfoot said the evaluations will help determine the economic viability of a Chicago casino, under the conditions imposed by an Illinois law enacted June 28 that finally authorized a 4,000-position city gaming facility after more than three decades of debate.
Senate Bill 690 requires a potential Chicago casino operator pay $30,000 per gaming position, or $120 million for all 4,000 permitted positions, as well as a $15 million "reconciliation fee" and a $250,000 fee to operate a land-based casino — before investing a penny in their casino facility.
Lightfoot said the five sites set for evaluation are comprised mostly of publicly owned land, and each has been considered for a casino or other major development in the past.
The feasibility study will not choose the final casino location, Lightfoot insisted.
She said that only will be selected following a citywide engagement process, including an online survey and town hall-style meetings, that give all Chicagoans a chance to be heard.
"While a Chicago casino had been talked about for more than 30 years, today we are moving forward to ensure the new casino is viable for Chicago and all of its communities," Lightfoot said.
"Together we are advancing a shared vision for new revenues that will benefit Chicago's severely underfunded pension funds, while generating new jobs and economic opportunity for communities across the city."
The Chicago city council and the Illinois Gaming Board also must sign off on a Chicago casino site before construction can begin.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said a Chicago casino, like the planned Hard Rock Casino Gary, is unlikely to produce a true windfall, because it'll be just another option in an already saturated gaming market.
"I don't believe the pie is going to get bigger just because we're building these new casinos," McDermott said. "They're just going to have to fight harder for the same dollars."
"It's not like they're going to create more demand. All they're going to do is reapportion how the pie is split."
Dan Nita, Caesars regional president and Hammond Horseshoe general manager, declined to comment on the potential locations for a Chicago casino.
"We are focused on taking care of our guests at our award-winning casino, as well as maintaining our position as one of the best places to work in the area," Nita said. "We are adding amenities like our new sports book to continue to be a best-in-class entertainment offering."
Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers adjusted the state's gaming regulations and wagering taxes to make Hoosier casinos more competitive with new gaming facilities in neighboring states.
That included authorizing Gary's Majestic Star casinos to relocate to a more accessible, land-based site adjacent to the Borman Expressway at Burr Street.