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Bally’s Chicago: Uncertainty Ahead

Delve into the complex situation facing Bally's Chicago casino, where financial hurdles, ownership disputes, and market uncertainties raise questions about its future.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Apr 24, 2024

Chicago's next stop

Chicago's inaugural and sole casino, currently housed in a temporary venue, finds itself confronting uncertainty as it approaches its ninth month in operation. Initially, there was a clear trajectory towards transitioning to the permanent Bally’s Chicago facility. However, recent developments have thrown a shadow of doubt over the realization of this plan.

 

  1. Financial Struggles: Bally's Chicago casino is struggling to secure $800 million for its permanent facility, raising doubts about its future. CFO Marcus Glover remains optimistic but uncertainties persist. As Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter, puts it, “When interest rates remain high, it becomes more expensive for companies like Bally's to borrow money.”
  2. Ownership Disputes: Standard General's bid for Bally's has caused division among shareholders, with K&F Growth Capital criticizing the move. The bid, coupled with Soo Kim's 23% control, has added complexity to Bally's situation.
  3. Market Uncertainty: Economic factors, including inflation and interest rate trends, are further complicating Bally's financial position. As Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell confirmed, persistent inflation delays the possibility of interest rate cuts, making borrowing more expensive for Bally's.

 

In March, Bally’s Chief Financial Officer Marcus Glover disclosed to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that the company is still in need of $800 million to fund the renovation of the Chicago Tribune printing plant for its permanent casino facility. This is part of the commitment Bally’s made when it won the bid for the Chicago license, which required a total investment of $1.34 billion. According to Glover, the company still has $1.1 billion of that commitment to fulfill. Glover expressed confidence in securing the required financing, anticipating funds from an unnamed lender by the summer of 2024.

Around the same time, Standard General, a hedge fund connected to Bally’s chairman Soo Kim, made a bid to take over Bally’s. With Kim controlling 23% of Bally’s stock, Standard General offered $15 per share for the outstanding balance. While Bally’s board of directors has formed a special committee to consider this offer, no final decision has been announced.

The economic landscape adds another layer of complexity to Bally’s situation. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently confirmed persistent inflation, delaying the possibility of interest rate cuts. This spells trouble for Bally’s, as higher interest rates make borrowing more expensive. Jon Morgan, CEO of Venture Smarter, explained that high interest rates increase the cost of borrowing, potentially widening the funding gap for Bally’s Chicago casino project.

The potential acquisition by Standard General raises legal concerns, particularly in Chicago. Wright Law Firm CEO Jamie E. Wright emphasized the importance of considering contractual obligations in public-private partnerships. Any change in ownership could affect these agreements, requiring review and approval to ensure project continuity and financial stability.

K&F Growth Capital, another Bally’s shareholder, openly criticized Standard General’s bid, accusing Kim of exploiting the company’s weakness. K&F proposed alternative strategies, suggesting Bally’s pursue operating partnerships for the Chicago casino.

 

 

“Casinos are more than just places to gamble; they're vibrant hubs of entertainment, excitement, and anticipation, where fortunes can change with the spin of a wheel or the flip of a card.”

The Conclusions

As Bally’s navigates these challenges, it must carefully weigh its options. While Standard General’s offer could provide much-needed capital, it also presents challenges. Morgan emphasized the importance of aligning any decision with the company’s long-term goals and vision.

Bally’s faces a critical juncture as it grapples with financial hurdles and ownership disputes. The outcome will not only impact the future of the Chicago casino but also influence the broader trajectory of the company. As stakeholders make their moves, the fate of Bally’s and its promises to Chicagoans remains uncertain.

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