Bally's casino at former Medinah Temple could open this weekend in Chicago

ByStephanie Wade and Rob Hughes WLS logo
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Chicago's 1st casino could open this weekend
The very first Chicago casino could open this weekend in the former Medinah Temple, Bally's officials said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC7 was invited to tour Bally's new temporary casino in River North on Tuesday.

Bally officials said there are a couple final hurdles to clear with the Illinois Gaming Board before officially opening.

ABC7 pressed Bally executives to give a firm opening date, but it's really up to the Illinois Gaming Board, and there are two days of practice gaming sessions coming Wednesday and Thursday before we'll know for sure. If all goes well, Chicagoans could see the city's first casino open this weekend.

Frank Cowan was in the neighborhood, stopping by the former Medinah Temple at Wabash and Ohio, where he thought a casino was already up and running.

"I love it. I'm a poker guy, so I'll be down here all the time if they have poker tables," Cowan said. "It says 'open now!'"

He wasn't alone. ABC7 watched at least a dozen people stop by and try to open the doors or peek inside. For now, all they can get is a glimpse through the glass doors from the sidewalk.

ABC7 did get to tour the coming casino. However, no cameras were allowed indoors.

"This is a historic moment for us," said Ameet Patel, the senior vice president and regional general manager for Bally's Corporation.

SEE ALSO: Bally's releases new renderings of Chicago casino complex in River West

The 111-year-old temple is now home to 750 slot machines and 50 table games, all while Bally builds its permanent $1.7 billion casino at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center printing plant side in River West, which could take up to three years.

The site kept its historical architecture, including original ceilings, with stained glass throughout.

"Making sure that this casino is more than just a casino, it's a showcase of history and culture for the city of Chicago," Patel said.

The bulk of the slot machines are on the first floor, where a giant bar welcomes guests, and a small café is located.

Table games and more slot machines are located on the second floor, with two restaurants and the VIP/high roller level on the third floor.

"The idea was that we make sure we maximize the revenue for the city, for the fire and pension funds, right? And, making sure that that revenue stream starts very quickly," Patel said.

"We have one of the most popular game teams being offered to Chicago. All of our equipment, table games, slots, everything is brand new," Patel said.

City officials are hoping they can get as much as $55 million in annual tax revenue from this temporary location, and about $200 million a year from the permanent site.

Bally's hired more than 700 workers for this site; 300 of those are dealers. Executives said over 16,000 people applied for positions.

"Over 300 people passionately coming here with their full dedication for the past six months, they've been with us since March of this year, getting trained on speed, accuracy, learning a skill set. And they're primarily Chicago residents," Patel said.

Some people are thrilled to have a casino nearby.

"Absolutely. That's why you come, right? You come to win big. I don't come for peanuts," Cowan laughed.

Others only see problems.

"I think that the traffic could be horrible," said Chicago native Toby Alexander.

Malek Abdulsamad is with the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents and lives close by. He wonders if people who live and work in the area will be safe.

"With restaurants bars gambling - people walking out with cash out of the casino. It's just like inviting trouble to the neighborhood," Abdulsamad said. "You bring such a controversial use in the middle of the neighborhood during a time where we have a surge in crime, a surge in carjackings in the neighborhood. Every one of these buildings hiring their own private security, and then you bring in a casino, and then, you never involve all the residents in the area. It just does not make any sense to me."

There's no doubt that gambling is a controversial issue. The other fair point Abdulsamad brought up is that three years is a long time. Regulations could change, and he's worried this won't be temporary, even as Bally's new complex is being built nearby.