Chicago casino opens for business in Medina Temple

After decades of political wrangling by former Chicago mayors, years of maneuvering at City Hall by would-be developers to get the lucrative deal and months of preparation by the lucky bidder, Bally’s Chicago’s pop-up casino has taken the city’s first legal bets from the betting public. Saturday morning.

Not that the long political backdrop was a concern for the dozens of people who lined up outside the city’s iconic North River Temple before its 8 a.m. opening.

Those who were among the city’s first crew of casino gamblers were focused on one thing: “winning a big jackpot,” said Chatham resident Eric Andrews, whose 53rd birthday fell on the date of Bally’s opening.

“I feel lucky,” he said.

A group of seniors who say they’re from Bronzeville and call themselves “The Thirty Dirty Club” cheer while waiting for the temporary Bally’s Casino to open. Pat Nappong/Chicago Sun-Times

First in line was Stephen Henry, who at 6:30 a.m. made his debut at the “Dancing Drums” slot machine. It only took 20 minutes to get to the new downtown casino from Austin: “That’s what’s interesting to me — it’s close.”

A group of friends of a certain age — who called themselves the “Dirty Thirty” Club from Bronzeville — chanted in class: “We’re old…we’re there for this money.”

“If you see me going out like this, it means I’ve lost,” one woman said, faltering melodramatically.

Beyond that, there was little fanfare when security workers began waving to customers inside the glass doors at 600 N. Wabash Ave., which will serve as Bally’s temporary casino for three years while it builds a larger permanent facility at the Chicago Tribune’s outpost. West River printing plant.

However, there was an early indication of potential congestion problems posed by the shell house located in the heart of a busy tourist area. Caroline Williams, the fourth person in line, said she had trouble finding a parking garage open early and was upset when she learned it wasn’t free.

However, she said she was still “excited to win”.

Bali sign
Bally’s temporarily resides in Temple Medina at 600 N. Wabash Ave., while a permanent location in River West is under construction. Pat Nappong/Chicago Sun-Times

City officials hope to win a steady stream of money from the casino to the pension funds of Chicago’s most insolvent police and firefighters.

This has been the goal ever since former Mayor Richard M. Daley first embraced the casino concept in 1992. But neither he nor his successor, Rahm Emanuel, could reach an agreement with lawmakers for a Chicago casino license.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot finally closed the deal in 2019 and chose the Bali bid over three other bidders last year. Now, the city draws up to $50 million a year in tax revenue from City Temple, the former home of the 111-year-old fraternal Shriners that now has nearly 800 slot machines and 56 table games.

“I think anything that can help pay off some of the city’s debt is a good thing,” said Jeff Henaw, a 36-year-old tech worker who got out for an early spin at Bally’s.

A constant stream of bettors – well below the building’s capacity of 3,200 – kept the casino buzzing for its first few hours of operation. Gaming screens flash and the occasional jackpot sounds are heard as punters try their luck at slot machines and tables spread across three gaming floors.

View of the games inside Bally's Casino through a glass door.
View of the games inside Bally’s Casino through a glass door. Pat Nappong/Chicago Sun-Times

Some gamblers said they didn’t see the signs of the nightmare traffic plaguing opponents – including the local Ald. Brendan Riley (42) – Be warned that the gambling parlor will bring to the bustling neighborhood.

“I don’t see why anyone would be unhappy about it opening,” Giles said, referring to the success of the new Hard Rock Casino in Gary, Indiana. In the end, Chicago will win.

Martin Arzette, 33, a resident assistant who helps immigrants in Chicago, waved public safety concerns as he explored the new casino.

“There are bars everywhere. There are clubs everywhere. It’s the same thing,” he said, adding that Bali’s leaders seem to “know what they’re doing”.

“Everything looks great. It smells good, it feels good, and everyone working is nice,” Arzati said. “And it doesn’t smell like cigarettes, so that’s always good.”

Andrews, the birthday boy who was among the first to enter the casino, said he came with $10 and, “If I lose that, I’ll leave.”

Less than an hour later, he walked over to another slot machine, smiling and waving the ticket. “I’m at $150.”

Bali said the casino is open from 8am to 4am seven days a week and will eventually operate 24/7.

For help with problem gambling, call 1-800-GAMBLER or text ILGAMB to 833234 to connect with licensed addiction counselors.

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