State gambling regulators on Thursday gave its first approvals toward the opening of a long-debated Chicago casino, voting in favor of licenses for Medinah Temple to serve as the temporary home of a gambling hall that developer Bally’s hopes to open by June.
Whether that ambitious timeline can be met remains uncertain, as the Illinois Gaming Board still is required to investigate and approve everyone involved in the project, from top investors to subcontractors involved in the construction.
The ultimate plan is for Bally’s to open a permanent casino west of the Chicago River on the site of the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant by 2026.
The board voted 3-0 to approve supplier licenses for two corporate entities owned by real estate developer Albert Friedman to serve as Bally’s landlord at the century-old Shriner’s amphitheater, which most recently housed a Bloomingdale’s Home Store.
The decision to house the temporary casino at the River North landmark, which was not Bally’s initial choice, has been the source of some controversy. Critics have pointed to a $6,000 contribution Friedman made to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign about two months before Bally’s signed a letter of intent, at the city’s urging, to use Medinah Temple.
The campaign contribution was disclosed to the Gaming Board on the Medinah license applications.
Thursday’s vote is just an initial public step in a process that could take months or years to complete.
Since Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a measure into law in 2019 vastly expanding gambling in Illinois, only one of six newly authorized casinos has begun operations — Hard Rock Casino Rockford, which opened at a temporary site in November 2021, nearly two years after its application was submitted to gambling regulators.
Bally’s filed its application with the state for a Chicago casino in August.
During Thursday’s meeting, Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter detailed the lengthy investigation process underway at the Gaming Board and declined to say when a hearing would be held on Bally’s “preliminary suitability” for a casino license, which is required before construction can commence.
Fruchter said he wouldn’t “characterize the investigation other than to say it is moving forward and that Bally’s is cooperating with IGB staff.”
“We will continue to adhere to the established process and follow the facts and the law wherever they lead us,” he said.