Lakeside Center is perfect site for pop-up casino
Loop North News

The Home Front

(Above) Rendering by Rush Street Gaming of Rivers Chicago, a proposed casino that would be located at Lakeside Center. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

With the city drowning in pension fund debt and desperate for gambling tax cash, the only logical casino choice is Lakeside Center – the original McCormick Place East.

30-Nov-21 – Suddenly Chicago is on its way to becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is spinning her roulette wheel and trying to choose between five proposals for the launch of a giant Chicago gambling casino by the first quarter of 2022. The proposals came after lawmakers in Springfield changed the casino tax structure and passed a pile of chips to the gaming industry.

Three of the five proposals involve massive new pie-in-the-sky construction plans on vacant land or railroad air rights that could take years to develop and build.

With the city drowning in $47 billion in pension fund debt, Lightfoot is desperate for gambling tax cash and the only logical casino choice is Lakeside Center – the original McCormick Place East – for an instant “pop-up” downtown casino that could raise millions in gaming tax dollars for the city as early as 2022.

Lakeside Center, which looks a lot like an aircraft carrier, is anchored on the shore overlooking Lake Michigan.

Construction experts say Lakeside Center originally was designed and wired decades ago for a future casino, and there is plenty of nearby parking. Before the pandemic, the building was only used about 10-20 times a year for business gatherings.

Financial experts have estimated the casino would generate up to $6.6 billion in annual revenue, with direct tax revenue of $3-4 billion to the city and state. All this new revenue could help lead Illinois and Chicago back to fiscal stability.

Walsh Group

In 2020, some $15 million in renovation upgrades were pumped into Lakeside Center to convert it to an emergency hospital (left) for up to 2,500 COVID-19 patients.

Union tradesmen and women worked around the clock to install 100 new water lines, 1,000 electrical outlets, and more than 100 data lines to supply an electronic records system to accept and monitor patients. FEMA paid for the work, and the Army Corps of Engineers supervised construction, so these funds really were a gift from Uncle Sam.

High-tech construction perks, along with other cosmetic upgrades, could create hundreds of jobs, and the work could create an instant gambling casino.

An estimated 25 percent of Chicago’s population are casino gamers or video poker players, and experts say they are eager to line up for the action and the fun of downtown gambling.

Move in 1,000 slots and video poker machines, add 200 manned gaming tables, toss in a few restaurants and bars, and Mayor Lightfoot’s cash register could start going ka-ching in early 2022.

Another important perk is the proposal to redevelop Lakeside Center comes from Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, headed by Chicago real estate developer Neil Bluhm, which owns four casinos, including Rivers Casino Des Plaines, the top grossing venue in Illinois.

Lakeside Center would be renamed Rivers Chicago at McCormick. According to Scott Goodman, founding principal of Chicago-based Farpoint Development, Rush Street Gaming’s partner, Lakeside Center is “a perfect adjunct to what’s already there – infrastructure, parking, and access.”

The seldom-used, 50-year-old Lakeside Center has 583,000 square feet of exhibit space. It is near 2,900 hotel rooms, designed for high-traffic events, and could help draw thousands of eager conventioneer gamblers.

The $1 billion plan for Rivers Chicago Casino at McCormick would create a casino floor of up to 300,000 square feet, along with food and beverage options and entertainment spaces, Goodman said.

Rush Street Gaming

Farpoint likely would seek a 99-year lease with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, managers of McCormick Place.

Here are details on the four other casino proposals:

Bally’s Chicago. Bally’s Corporation has submitted two $1.6 billion proposals to build a Chicago casino at different sites.

Bally’s Corporation

One calls for a new construction casino on the 28-acre McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard (left), a giant parking lot at 31st Street and South Lake Shore Drive.

Bally’s second proposal involves redeveloping part of the 30-acre Freedom Center site at 777 West Chicago Avenue (right), which prints the Chicago Tribune and currently houses the newspaper’s newsroom.

Bally’s Corporation

Bally’s has an option to purchase the land.

Rush Street Gaming

Rivers 78 Gaming. Rush Street Gaming is also working with master developer Related Midwest on a proposed new construction casino at The 78, a 62-acre mega development on the Chicago River in the South Loop.

Hard Rock. Perhaps the biggest pie-in-the-sky proposal comes from Hard Rock International, which says it plans to build a new-construction casino on railroad air rights just west of Soldier Field, in the futuristic One Central Development.

Hard Rock

Landmark Development’s One Central plan calls for covering a 35-acre train yard with a platform on which a retail, dining, and entertainment destination will sit. It would require $6.5 billion in state financing over 20 years for the project to launch.

Regardless of which Chicago proposal is approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, the nation’s casino business is booming with $14 billion in revenue in the third quarter of 2021, the industry’s best quarter ever. U.S. casinos are poised to have their best year ever in 2021, on a pace to break the annual revenue record of $43.65 billion set in 2019.

• Contact Don DeBat at


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