Casino Chicago: City Council clears the way for Bally's casino in final meeting of 2022

Bally's Chicago casino would be located at Chicago Avenue, Halsted Street

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Thursday, December 15, 2022
City Council clears way for Chicago casino, Red Line expansion
In their final meeting of 2022, the Chicago City Council cleared the way both for the Bally's casino and a CTA Red Line expansion.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago City Council cleared the way for a casino in the city in its final meeting of the year.

City Council met Wednesday morning about Bally's plan to build along the river, near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

The plan cleared the final city hurdle, but not without some last minute questions and objections from aldermen.

The $1.74 billion Bally's casino is slated to be built in River West at what's now the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center printing plant.

The proposed casino would allow for a 500-room hotel, a 3,000-seat theater and event center and a river walk.

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It would be located in Alderman Walter Burnett's 27th Ward.

"The casino deal is very exciting for the city of Chicago. It's really helping us to balance our budget and our budgets for the future and our pension challenges, but also, it's gonna bring a lot of amenities to the city," Burnett said.

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The council approved an ordinance to rezone the area where the casino will be built, a move required because that land is part of a previously approved planned development that called for high rises and other businesses and residential units.

The city is counting on the casino to bring in $200 million in annual revenue once it's fully up and running. The plan supported by Mayor Lori Lightfoot has come with pushback. Some in City Council have raised red flags surrounding traffic and safety issues in the area.

"What do they bring to the table? They don't bring the money that they need to make this happen," said 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins. "They don't bring experience running a casino. The senior partners in this venture had no experience in the casino industry when they acquired Bally's."

Alderman Andre Vazquez of the 40th Ward is in favor of the casino but has his own concerns.

"My concern is about folks who have addictions with alcohol or gambling addictions and what we are doing to make sure we address that as a health issue and not fostering more of it without properly addressing it as a city," Vazquez said.

Alderman Burnett, who is giving the measure a thumbs up Wednesday, was concerned about minorities and residents from his ward being able to get jobs through the project, but he said he has the reassurances he needs.

"I think right now a lot of things are theatrical because folks are running for office. Everything is not what it seems. I think everybody, everyone, even the folks that's against it know that this is the best deal that we can get in order to move forward and dealing with her pension fund for the city of Chicago," Burnett said.

Zoning for a Bally's casino in Chicago got the blessing Tuesday of a City Council committee.

At the meeting of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, Burnett said he has seen some documents and been given a commitment from Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration about minority hiring. After Burnett spoke, the committee endorsed the casino zoning on a 10-4 vote.

Burnett mentioned the project's complexity and Bally's likely need to bring it back to the City Council on other issues.

"Everybody gotta come back and see you, and eventually, they're going to need something else," Burnett told alderpersons. "So I know that I'm sure they don't want to see me upset in the future, that they're going to keep their commitment for hiring people in our neighborhood. So I feel confident that this is gonna be OK."

Burnett has criticized unions in the construction trades for not providing enough opportunities for Black residents.

Bally's executives at the committee meeting reaffirmed pledges that 46% of all contracts will go to minority- or women-owned firms and that 60% of hiring will go to minorities. Christopher Jewett, vice president of corporate development at Bally's, said he is confident Bally's can keep those commitments based on experiences in other cities.

While he has criticized the trade unions, Burnett said, "I'd like to give them a chance. They see that I'm serious."

If the proposal gets the go ahead, it's not a done deal yet. Bally's still needs the approval of the Illinois Gaming Board to operate in Chicago.

If it gets that, Bally's intends to open a temporary casino in Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., perhaps next year. It hopes to have the permanent casino, a $1.7 billion investment, open in 2026.

Several zoning committee members praised the casino for the union jobs it will provide and for its financial benefits to the city, which has already gotten a $40 million payment from Bally's.

Sun-Times Media contributed to this report.