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Bally's to test gaming operations at Medinah Temple

Bally’s Chicago has scheduled practice gaming sessions at Medinah Temple for the Illinois Gaming Board after Labor Day. If it passes muster, the first Chicago casino — an idea decades in the making — may be open for business soon thereafter.

The test run, which includes a gaming operations assessment on Sept. 5 and two days of practice gaming on Sept. 6 and 7, is the final hurdle for Bally’s before the dice start rolling at the casino’s temporary home in River North.

The practice gaming sessions will be evaluated by regulatory staff and an outside auditing firm, a prerequisite to issuing a temporary operating permit to commence operations, the Gaming Board said in an emailed statement Thursday. The Gaming Board declined to “speculate” on the timeline for opening the casino.

“Based on the results of the operations assessment/audit and practice gaming sessions, Administrator (Marcus) Fruchter will determine whether and to what extent to allow gaming to operate at Medinah Temple,” the Gaming Board said.

A Bally’s spokesperson confirmed the testing schedule, but said there was no set date for the casino opening. Sources familiar with the matter said Bally’s is targeting a Sept. 11 opening, pending Gaming Board approval.

In June, Bally’s was granted preliminary approval by the Illinois Gaming Board — a precursor to final licensing — and immediately began installing more than 750 slot machines and 50 gaming tables at Medinah Temple. At the time, executives said they expected to have the roughly 1,000 gaming positions in place by the end of the month.

The start date for launching the temporary facility, however, has been a moving target all year, pushed back several times from June to September.

Rhode Island-based Bally’s won a heated competition last year to build a $1.74 billion casino at the 30-acre site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant in River West. It bought the site for $200 million from Nexstar Media, with plans to open the permanent casino in 2026.

Furniture is moved into the Medinah Temple in Chicago on June 20, 2023, as Bally’s prepares the space for a casino.

Built by the Shriners in 1912, Medinah Temple will serve as a temporary casino for up to three years. The building, which was designated a Chicago landmark in 2001, has hosted everything over the years from concerts and high school graduations to the annual Shrine Circus. Amenities included a 30,000-pound pipe organ installed in 1915.

It became a Bloomingdale’s home furnishings store in 2003, but was vacant after Macy’s sold it to Chicago developer Albert Friedman in 2019.

Bally’s has been renovating the 130,000-square-foot building since January. As a final touch, Bally’s commissioned Chicago artist Shawn Michael Warren to create a mural depicting the historical significance of Medinah Temple, which is expected to be finished during the second week of September — presumably before the casino opens.

“We are excited to have Shawn Michael Warren be a part of this amazing mural project,” Mark Wong, general manager of Bally’s Chicago, said in a news release. “His extraordinary talent to capture the historical essence of Chicago’s connection to the Medinah Temple will be an eloquent and visual backdrop for guests visiting our casino.”

Part of its successful test run as a casino will include the performance of dealers and other Bally’s Chicago personnel during the practice gaming sessions. Bally’s put out the help wanted sign in May and fielded more than 15,000 applications to fill 900 full and part-time positions to staff the temporary casino, Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim told the Tribune Thursday.

Demand for the jobs is an encouraging sign for the success of the Medinah temporary casino, Kim said.

“We’ve gotten 15,000 applications in a very tight job market.” Kim said. “And I think that speaks to the convenience of the location. We think that means it’s also going to be a great place for our patrons to come to.”

Earlier this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker expanded the talent pool, signing legislation allowing convicted felons to apply for hospitality positions at the state’s soon-to-be 14 casinos, including Bally’s Chicago. Previously under state law, anyone with a felony conviction was ineligible to work at a casino in any position.


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