As Bally’s operates the temporary location of Chicago’s first casino, it represents a homecoming of sorts for a trailblazing corporate banner with nearly a century of high-profile endeavors.

This is not, however, your grandfather’s Bally’s.

Bally’s, which is looking to build a $1.74 billion casino in the River West neighborhood, is a storied name with deep Chicago roots. The name was purchased in 2020 by a publicly traded Rhode Island company, which owns and manages 14 casinos across 10 states.

Acquiring the Bally’s name gave the hedge fund-controlled company, formerly known as Twin River Holdings, instant credibility as it opportunistically assembled its casino portfolio during the pandemic and bested two other finalists to get the nod as Chicago’s casino.

The name also imbues the rebranded casino company with a colorful and complex history that includes multiple bankruptcies, brushes with the mob and credit/blame for unleashing Pac-Man fever on the nation during the 1980s.

Founded in 1932 as a Chicago-based pinball manufacturer, Bally’s diversified into everything from casinos and health clubs to amusement parks over the years before selling off its parts and fading into corporate obscurity in the new millennium.

A Cleveland native who moved to Chicago with his family, Ray Moloney launched a new company in 1931 called Lion Manufacturing that made punchboards — games of chance that used a stylus to reveal prizes — when he was captivated by a pinball machine he saw at a punchboard convention. In 1932, he built his first pinball machine at the company’s fourth-floor offices on Erie Street in River North. Ballyhoo became a hit, selling more than 50,000 units within the first seven months. The name Bally Manufacturing soon supplanted parent company Lion as the primary moniker in advertisements and popular culture. By the mid-1930s, Bally branched out into slot machines and phased out the punchboard business.

During World War II, Bally shifted from making pinball and slot machines to producing detonator fuses and gun sights to support the war effort. Backed by government funding, Bally expanded its plant at 2640 W. Belmont Ave., and hit the ground running with an array of new entertainment offerings when the war ended.

Bally’s postwar manufacturing efforts grew to include coin-operated kiddie rides such as the Bally Space Ship that sat tantalizingly in front of stores across the U.S. But a federal ban on the interstate shipping of slot machines cut off a key manufacturing segment for Bally, delivering “quite a blow” to the Chicago-based company, according to a January 1951 Tribune story.

When Ray Moloney died in February 1958, he left the business to his sons, but Bally floundered in the hands of the next generation. Although Don and Ray Jr. were successful in gaining an exemption that allowed them to resume manufacturing and shipping slot machines to Las Vegas, revenues dried up and the administrators of Moloney’s estate decided to sell the company.

A group of investors, led by longtime Bally employee William O’Donnell, bought the company for $1.2 million in 1963. Bally took advantage of changes in federal law and a new Illinois statute to turn the faltering pinball machine company into the world’s largest maker of slot machines. Later, it would become a casino owner and a diversified entertainment company. But subsequent allegations that the original investor group had ties to organized crime would follow O’Donnell and the company for years.

The parent company formally changed its name from Lion to Bally Manufacturing and went public in March 1969, raising capital and furthering its expansion ambitions. In August 1969, the newly public Bally agreed to buy Chicago-based arcade game rival Midway Manufacturing.

Paul Nguyen, of Fullerton, California, the self-proclaimed

Bally’s subsidiary Midway imported Japanese video game Space Invaders in 1978, creating an arcade hit that revolutionized the gaming industry. Midway followed that up with Pac-Man in 1980, another Japanese import and cultural phenomenon that gobbled up quarters as fast as the title character devoured flashing power pellets in the game’s video maze. The game even inspired a novelty song, “Pac-Man Fever,” which was a top-10 hit in early 1982.

Subsequent titles such as Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga drew their own followings, but the arcade lost its luster as home gaming evolved, and Bally sold its pinball and video portfolio to rival WMS Industries in 1988.

Bally's Atlantic City in May 2015.

When Atlantic City, New Jersey, legalized gambling in 1976, Bally CEO O’Donnell was among the first to seize the opportunity. But as Bally got closer to opening its Park Place casino in 1979, New Jersey state investigators raised concerns that the original investor group organized by O’Donnell had mob ties that precluded his involvement in the new casino.

Investigators alleged that Gerardo (Jerry) Catena, a reputed New Jersey mob boss, was a “hidden partner” in O’Donnell’s 1963 takeover of Bally. O’Donnell agreed to step down in December 1979 as Bally’s Park Place opened.

O’Donnell was replaced as CEO by Robert Mullane, a Bally vice president and president of its distribution subsidiary, who presided over a decade of even more ambitious diversification, with decidedly mixed results.

Hoping to compete with restaurant gaming meccas such as ShowBiz Pizza Place, Bally announced in August 1981 that it was buying Barnaby’s Family Inns, a Chicago-based pizza chain, for about $3.6 million in Bally’s stock. The plan was to convert the 24 restaurants to an arcade-themed concept called Bally’s Tomfoolery as a prelude to national expansion.

The first Tomfoolery restaurants opened in Chicago Ridge, Park City and Lombard, garnering generally positive reviews from then-Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel, who praised the “something-for-everyone” menu, the “appropriately glitzy” decor and the relatively unobtrusive video game room.

“Despite the Bally name, Tomfoolery is not some pinball paradise for gamesters who tend to play through mealtime,” Vettel said.

The concept did not pan out, however, and within a few years Bally sold the Barnaby’s restaurants back to the original owners.

In January 1982, Bally acquired the Six Flags theme park chain from Penn Central Corp. for $147.4 million. Two years later, it bought the separately owned Six Flags Great America amusement park in north suburban Gurnee from Marriott Corp. for $113.2 million.

Bally agreed to sell the profitable Six Flags chain for $600 million in 1987 to focus on its casino business and alleviate debt.

A Bugs Bunny costumed character performs during a dance routine at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee in 2016.

Bally branched into another business with the 1983 acquisition of Health & Tennis Corp., a chain of 280 health clubs, for $140 million. Bally’s Health & Tennis grew into the nation’s largest chain of health clubs, but would come under regulatory scrutiny for alleged deceptive business practices.

Bally went west in November 1985, striking a deal to buy MGM Grand Hotels and its casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. The $550 million acquisition included about $110 million in debt, in what would become a mounting problem for the nascent casino company.

The Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City N.J. in 2019.

In January 1987, Bally agreed to buy its second casino, the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, for $440 million, including the assumption of $300 million in debt. The deal was, in part, a move to thwart Donald Trump, who had a 9.9% stake in Bally and indicated he might try to take over the company. Trump, who already owned two Atlantic City casinos, was prevented by New Jersey regulations from owning more than three. The acquisition of a second Atlantic City casino by Bally would have put Trump over the limit, and the takeover bid was quashed.

All in, buying three casinos put Bally $1.6 billion in debt, as Wall Street began to sour on the former pinball company turned conglomerate.

By October 1990, Bally was defaulting on loans and swimming in debt as it struggled to turn a profit at its casinos. Arthur Goldberg, a New Jersey lawyer and businessman who had become Bally’s largest shareholder with a 5.4% stake, mounted a successful takeover bid, ousting Mullane and installing himself as CEO.

Goldberg would lead an effort to clean up Bally’s balance sheet through spinoffs and sales, in a bid to keep the 60-year-old Chicago company solvent.

When Illinois enacted the Riverboat Gambling Act in 1990, Chicago began planning to build its own casino/entertainment complex, a quest that would take 30 years to get off the ground. Bally put its chips on the table at the onset, despite growing financial troubles with its own casino properties.

Bally’s Grand, the subsidiary that operated the firm’s casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection when Goldberg told then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s gaming commission that Chicago-based Bally was best suited to build a Chicago casino.

“Nobody else has the local expertise, the local experience and the local connections to this economy,” Goldberg said.

Bally sold the Reno casino to Hilton Hotels Corp. in June 1992 for $83 million as it worked to restructure the Bally’s Grand debt, retaining the Las Vegas casino.

With plans to focus on its casino business, the renamed Bally Entertainment Corp. announced the spinoff of its money-losing health club chain in September 1995. Bally’s Health & Tennis, then the largest commercial operator of fitness centers in North America, with about 335 facilities, had been in poor financial health for several years. The chain was also struggling with image problems after agreeing to pay refunds to thousands of current and former members to settle a 1994 Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging deceptive billing, cancellation and refund practices.

The fitness chain completed the spinoff in January 1996, rebranding as Bally Total Fitness, but the losses continued to pile up for the stand-alone, publicly traded company.

Six years after taking the reins of the ailing Chicago company, Goldberg cashed in his chips. In June 1996, Bally Entertainment, which had one casino in Las Vegas and two in Atlantic City, was acquired by Hilton Hotels Corp. for $3 billion, including the assumption of $1 billion in Bally’s debt. The gaming division of Hilton evolved into Caesars Entertainment, the largest casino company in the world, which retained the Bally’s name for casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Goldberg, who became CEO of the merged casino company, died in 2000, but the Bally brand would live on for a few more years at the struggling Chicago-based fitness chain.

Under pressure from regulators, shareholders and members, money-losing Bally Total Fitness announced in November 2004 it would restate financial results for four years, saying it “incorrectly accounted for revenue from membership initiation fees and the collection of unpaid dues.” Bally, which was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission at the time, brought in a new auditing firm, KPMG, and launched its own internal investigation.

When Bally wrapped up its internal investigation in February 2005, it blamed former CEO Lee Hillman and former CFO John Dwyer for fostering a “culture of aggressive accounting.” The company also accused its former auditor, Ernst & Young, of committing accounting errors and not giving good advice.

Sara Kim, of Chicago, works out at a Chicago Bally's Fitness location in 2003.

Carrying $725 million in debt and continuing to operate in the red at its more than 400 health clubs, Bally Total Fitness hired investment firm JPMorgan Securities in December 2005 to explore alternatives, “including a sale,” then-CEO Paul Toback said. The move came as the company was fending off a proxy fight from two of its largest shareholders.

In August 2006, Bally’s stock price plunged on a triple dose of bad news that included failing to find a buyer, lower revenue projections and the resignation of Toback as chairman and CEO. The company, which took itself off the block, remained more than $720 million in debt and under the control of hedge fund Pardus Capital Management, its largest shareholder.

Struggling with declining memberships and too much debt, Bally Total Fitness, the nation’s largest health club operator, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 31, 2007. Two months later, Bally emerged from bankruptcy with the help of a $234 million funding package from hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, which took full ownership of the company on Oct. 1, 2007.

In February 2008, the SEC filed a lawsuit against Bally Total Fitness, wrapping up its lengthy investigation and alleging the fitness chain misled investors and misrepresented its financial condition from 1997 to 2003. Bally settled the lawsuit simultaneously by simply agreeing not to violate federal securities law in the future.

In December 2008, during the depths of the Great Recession, Bally declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in 16 months, citing long-term debt, declining revenue and a lack of refinancing options.

Bally Total Fitness reached a deal to emerge from bankruptcy in June 2009 through funding from JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and other investment firms, which helped reduce the Chicago-based company’s debt by $660 million.

A LA Fitness gym in Secaucus, New Jersey, in 2018.

In November 2011, Bally Total Fitness sold 171 health clubs — including all 27 Illinois locations — to the LA Fitness gym chain in a deal valued at $153 million. While Bally retained 100 clubs, it was the beginning of the end for the health club chain, which sold off additional locations over several years, dwindling to a handful of holdouts. By 2016, Bally Total Fitness was defunct.

Standard General, a New York-based hedge fund launched by Soo Kim in 2007, bought into a variety of distressed properties during the Great Recession, ranging from TV stations to casinos. In 2011, it took a stake in Twin River Holdings, a Lincoln, Rhode Island, slots parlor and former greyhound racing track that had emerged from bankruptcy after amassing $600 million in debt.

Kim joined the Twin River board in 2016 and became chairman in late 2019 as Standard General became the largest shareholder in the publicly traded company, building a 22% stake.

Bally's chairman Soo Kim listens to Mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrate the passage of the Chicago casino deal May 25, 2022.

Under Kim’s guidance, the casino company went on an opportunistic buying spree during the pandemic as properties temporarily shuttered and valuations plummeted. In April 2020, Twin River bought the aging Bally’s casino in Atlantic City from Caesars Entertainment for $25 million. In October, Twin River announced that it also acquired the rights to the Bally’s name for an undisclosed price. The rebranded Bally’s has since invested $100 million in renovating the Atlantic City property, but the name may prove even more valuable.

“During COVID, we went shopping and we bought 10 casinos,” said Kim. “We bought the brand name as part of one of the purchases, and that really changed our company in a big way.”

The rebranded Bally’s not only slapped its name on a growing portfolio of 14 casinos across 10 states, in November it struck a 10-year deal to rename 21 former Fox regional sports networks acquired by Sinclair Broadcasting as Bally Sports.

Bally’s made its entree into Illinois in June 2021 with the $120 million acquisition of Jumer’s Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, which it renamed Bally’s Quad Cities.

In November, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced she was weighing five competing bids to develop the Chicago casino, including two proposals from Bally’s to build its flagship casino and hotel complex in the city where its namesake was born 90 years earlier.

After winnowing the field down to three finalists in March, Bally’s emerged in May as the winner of an intense and contentious yearlong vetting process. The City Council voted 41-7 on May 25 to sign off on the plan, which then moved to the Illinois Gaming Board for approval.

The Bally’s proposal to build a $1.74 billion casino complex in River West is expected to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue for the city, transform a 30-acre industrial site into a bustling entertainment destination and send the Chicago Tribune printing plant packing from its longtime home along the Chicago River.

The plan included opening a temporary casino in the landmark Medinah Temple in River North.

In August, Bally’s filed its Chicago casino license application with the Illinois Gaming Board, with plans to open the temporary facility by June 2023 and the permanent casino in 2026.

Bally’s became Tribune Publishing’s landlord in November when it bought the Freedom Center site from Nexstar Media for $200 million. Within days, Bally’s executed a sale-leaseback on the land with Chicago-based Oak Street Real Estate Capital, raising up to $500 million to help build the casino complex.

In May, Tribune Publishing reached an agreement with Bally’s to vacate the printing plant by July 2024, with plans to relocate operations to the Daily Herald printing plant in Schaumburg, which it purchased for an undisclosed price.

The Illinois Gaming Board unanimously approved a “determination of preliminary suitability” for Bally’s Chicago in June, setting the table to launch the temporary casino at Medinah Temple.

After undergoing two days of practice gaming, Bally’s received signoff from the Illinois Gaming Board Sept. 8 to operate the temporary site, and opened the doors to its first public visitors the following day.