The state law that granted a casino to Chicago also granted another nugget to its developer: the ability to install slot machines at O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s choice for the Chicago Casino – a Bally-run entertainment and gambling complex in River West – was announced at a celebratory downtown press conference on Thursday where city leaders , unions and businesses spoke at length about the expected benefits of the plan.
But city officials have said far less about the prospects of bringing slot machines to Chicago’s two major airports, with officials from City Hall and the Chicago Department of Aviation saying only that ‘there were currently no ongoing projects.
Bally Chairman Soo Kim, however, told the Tribune that he was “very interested” in installing slot machines at Chicago airports, calling it an “intriguing idea” that could serve both as a marketing tool and potential increase in revenue stream.
“I think it needs to be done properly, in conjunction with the other concessionaires at the airport,” Kim said. “We can put part of our number of machines at the airport. I think that will kind of help announce Bally’s presence.
Tucked away in the 2019 state law that granted a casino license to Chicago is a provision that allows the city’s casino developer to install a portion of its batch of slot machines at both airports, as long as the total number of “playing positions” at all locations not to exceed 4,000. Airport slots must also be located in a “secure area” that exceeds airport security and can only be accessed for people aged 21 and over.
Bally’s proposal for its River West casino calls for 3,400 slot machines and 170 table games, which leaves room for potentially hundreds of additional slot machines at O’Hare and Midway.
Slot machines at airports would put Chicago in rare company with Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, which also offer gambling at their airports. Other cities like Pittsburgh have considered it.
But Lightfoot’s office is not considering such a venture at this time, a city hall spokesperson said, because focusing on the Bally’s River West location would be more lucrative.
Kim, who is a founding partner of New York-based hedge fund Standard General, the casino company’s largest shareholder, also said the highest priority right now was the casino proposal, an estimated 1.7 billion that includes a hotel tower, a theater, an outdoor music venue and several restaurants.
These plans must be accepted by the Illinois City Council and Gaming Board and face significant neighborhood resistance.
But if all goes as planned, Bally’s hopes to launch a temporary casino in Chicago’s Medinah Temple building early next year and the permanent site in 2026.
However, no schedule has been proposed for airport slots.