CHICAGO — Opening night for the temporary Bally’s casino had all the energy of stage show jitters prior to a first performance. It wasn’t the casino radiating the nervous energy, though. It was the city, which for the first time in its 190-year history had the opportunity to play casino games within its own borders that seemed anxious.
While the casino is not yet running at full bore, the hundreds of gaming tables and slot machines presented sufficient opportunity for any Chicagoan who wanted to try their luck. Bally’s delivered what it said it would in the Medinah Temple. Regardless, it might take some time for Chicagoans to settle in.
Chicagoans unsure of themselves as first casino opens
The first night for Bally’s Chicago in its temporary location was not full of celebrity appearances or dignitary delegations. Rather, Saturday night was a res publica in the city. Foot traffic in and out of the Medinah Temple at the intersection of Ohio and Wabash was constant.
Yet, the feeling of apprehension on the part of denizens in the casino was palpable. If certain species on Earth can detect fear, they would have noticed the crowd. While the casino’s guests were not afraid in a classical sense, they appeared hesistant.
The three floors of gaming tables and slots were mostly full of players appearing to simply try their luck executing no strategy other than sheer hope. Real money blackjack, baccarat, and roulette tables with higher buy-ins frequently sat empty as the tables with lower buy-ins were swamped.
Dealers explained games to passers by as they weighed the heft of the tokens in their hands. The only places that the mass of Chicagoans seemed at ease and jovial were the first- and third-floor bars. It’s completely understandable; a bar is something that Chicagoans are well versed in.
There was little slot-jumping happening. Players seemed intent to either reap their desired rewards from a terminal of choice or lose their bankroll trying. As is always the case, many more of them did the latter.
One slot player, Evelyn, shared that her choice of slot terminal simply came down to having “a feeling about this one.” It was as if the same ethereal, intangible force was driving the seemingly random gambling across all three floors on Saturday night.
At the same time, the casino’s operation was anything but left to the vicissitudes of fate. Bally’s staff was in firm control of what it could control.
Few hitches in the actual operation of the casino
While Chicagoans’ “learning to casino” resembled something like a child riding a bicycle without training wheels for the first time, Bally’s staff resembled X-Games veterans in comparison to stick with the analogy. Foot traffic in and out of the casino was smooth and operation of the games was seamless.
The bright, clean venue delivered the promised nods to the Medinah Temple’s history that Bally’s promised in maintaining the stained glass accents. It wasn’t an absolutely pristine first night, though.
One of the casino’s three eateries, the Medinah Café, was not yet open. By Illinois law, the casino was not yet able to operate its on-site sportsbook, so the activity at that area adjacent to the third-floor bar was limited to a “coming soon” sign that was impossible to miss.
Furthermore, elevators running between the floors were not operational. That prompted concerns for people with disabilities. Perhaps the biggest issue for people with full use of their legs was the flow of foot traffic inside the casino.
Bally’s has deployed a full complement of gaming tables and slots on the three floors. That left visitors with full use of their legs somewhat to their own devices to navigate traffic patterns. At times, traversing the floors required the kind of dumb luck that players on the nearby slots were hoping for.
To a large degree, though, that’s the casino being a victim of its own success. The human saturation inside the venue was high if timid. Whether both of those phenomena will continue in concert with each other moving forward is a matter of interest.
As time wanes, the crowd sizes may do so as well, although Bally’s likely hopes that Saturday night fevers will remain. Chicagoans may become more adept at navigating the premises over the next three years too before Bally’s opens its permanent Chicago casino.
In that way, the temporary location acts as somewhat of a learning opportunity for Chicago. Both Bally’s and Chicago are looking for growing gains in the Medinah Temple.