Chicago’s First Casino Opens at Historic Medinah Temple

Chicagoans can now enjoy the thrill of gambling at the city’s first casino, which opened its doors to the public on Saturday. Bally’s Casino, located at the former Medinah Temple in River North, offers 750 slot machines and 50 table games in a historic and elegant setting. The casino is a temporary location until Bally’s builds its permanent $1.7 billion complex in River West, which is expected to be completed by 2026.

The Illinois Gaming Board approved the opening of the casino after conducting practice gaming sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. The casino’s hours are determined by the board, and guests must be 21 years or older to enter. The casino also follows COVID-19 safety protocols, such as requiring masks, social distancing, and temperature checks.

Chicago’s First Casino Opens at Historic Medinah Temple
Chicago’s First Casino Opens at Historic Medinah Temple

Bally’s officials said they are excited to bring the first casino to Chicago and contribute to the city’s economy and entertainment. “This is a historic moment for us,” said Ameet Patel, senior vice president and regional general manager for Bally’s Corporation. “We are proud to offer a unique gaming experience that showcases the history and culture of Chicago.”

Medinah Temple Preserves Its Architectural Charm

The Medinah Temple, built in 1912, is a landmarked building that features Moorish architecture, stained-glass windows, and a dome-shaped ceiling. The temple was originally used by the Shriners, a fraternal organization, and later hosted the annual Shrine Circus and other events. The building was vacant for several years until Bally’s leased it for its temporary casino.

Bally’s officials said they have preserved the original features of the temple and added some modern touches, such as a mural by Chicago artist Shawn Michael Warren that depicts scenes from the circus. The casino also has two restaurants by Paul Kahan’s restaurant group, One Off Hospitality, as well as a cafe. The slot machines are mostly on the first floor, while the table games and more slots are on the second floor. The third floor is reserved for VIP guests, who can enjoy high-stakes gambling and exclusive amenities.

Casino Revenue to Benefit City and State

The opening of the casino is expected to generate significant revenue for the city and the state, as well as create jobs and attract tourists. According to former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who announced Bally’s as the chosen operator in May 2022, the city could receive up to $55 million annually from the temporary casino and up to $200 million from the permanent one. The money will be dedicated to the underfunded pensions for Chicago police and firefighters, as well as to Gov. JB Pritzker’s infrastructure improvement program.

Bally’s has hired around 700 employees for the temporary casino, most of whom are Chicago residents. The company said it received over 16,000 applications for various positions, including dealers, servers, security guards, and managers. Patel said the company is committed to providing training and career opportunities for its staff.

Casino Faces Opposition from Some Residents and Alderman

Not everyone is happy about the casino coming to Chicago, especially in River North and River West. Some residents and Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose ward includes both sites, have expressed their opposition to the casino locations, citing concerns about traffic congestion, noise pollution, crime, and gambling addiction.

Reilly said he is “vehemently opposed” to both the temporary and permanent casino sites, and he suggested that they should be relocated to other neighborhoods that need more economic development. “Downtown doesn’t need that rare economic opportunity, but plenty of neighborhoods could surely use that boost,” he said in a statement this week.

However, Bally’s officials said they have worked with the city and the community to address their issues and ensure that the casino is a positive addition to Chicago. Patel said he hopes that people will give the casino a chance and see for themselves what it has to offer.

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