Mayor Lori Lightfoot picks Bally's proposal as choice for Chicago casino

Bally's proposal calls for casino at site of Tribune Publishing Plant in River West

Friday, May 6, 2022
Lightfoot picks River West site for Chicago casino
Mayor Lori Lightfoot selected the Bally's proposal in River West at the Tribune Publishing Plant site for the new casino in Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the Bally's proposal as her final selection for a Chicago casino Thursday.

The decision comes just days after Mayor Lightfoot pushed back on reports that a decision had already been made.

"I am proud to announce that Bally's Corporation will create a world-class entertainment district in our city that will delight residents and tourists alike," Lightfoot said. "Following significant analyses and community input on all aspects of our three finalists for Chicago's casino license, the selection committee and I have chosen Bally's to move forward in the development of the City's first integrated casino resort. We are confident that Bally's Tribune Publishing Center development will shore up the City's pension funds, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and lead to a bright financial future for our city."

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Several reports had said the Bally's casino plan would win final approval, but Mayor Lightfoot had never confirmed. The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday that the company's CEO arrived in Chicago to meet with the mayor.

"We would like to thank Mayor Lightfoot and her office for conducting a tough, but fair, RFP process, and selecting Bally's Chicago as the final bidder for the City's casino," said Soo Kim, chairman of Bally's Corporation Board of Directors. "Chicago is a unique and vibrant city, deserving of world-class gaming and entertainment destination that is of, by, and for the people by driving the local economy, supporting local labor, creating multigenerational wealth for minority investors, and showcasing the best of what the City has to offer. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with Mayor Lightfoot, and all of our valued community partners on this exciting endeavor."

The development would replace the Chicago Tribune printing plant along the Chicago River at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street in River West.

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Bally's $1.7 billion plan not only includes a casino, but also a 3,000-seat theater, a Chicago sports museum, a 500 room hotel tower, 10 restaurants and bars, and more.

Lightfoot said Bally's provided the strongest financial package, including increase its up-front payment to $40 million. It was also the only one of the three finalists to agree to a labor peace deal, which is considered critical in this union town.

"It means the attendant that parks your car, the dealer at the poker table, the server that brings your drinks...All of those workers will have a chance to earn family sustaining wages and benefits because of this agreement," said Bob Reiter, President Chicago Federation of Labor.

The casino will be built in what is now the 27th Ward, but in the city's remap it will be in the new 34th Ward.

Residents raised concerns about traffic, but Bally's has committed to make infrastructure improvements in advance.

"Do I want to deal with the casino and deal with all the drama? Well, not necessarily. But I know we have to. I know we have to deal with the pension funds for the firemen and the police," said Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th Ward.

But 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose ward is just across the river from the casino site, said the process of selecting a finalist amounted to a sham.

"We have a special casino committee at city hall that met once for two hours. We asked a bunch of questions received no answers on the record, and just last night received our answers in writing. And the announcement was made this morning 12 hours later. I think that's unacceptable," he said.

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The Chicago City Council must first approve the decision, then the Illinois Gaming Board has the final say.

If it is approved, Bally's plan would be to open a temporary casino by 2023, and the permanent casino would open in 2026.

Bally's said it anticipates operating the temporary casino at the Medinah Temple, which Ald. Reilly also raised concerns about. Located in his ward, he said the area has a crime problem and the Medinah Temple is also in a no-alcohol zone.

But Bally's chairman Soo Kim said he's ready to win the city council's approval.

"We believe that Bally's is ready to bet on Chicago, we think this is a wonderful way for Chicago to you know continue its recovery from COVID," he said.

The other two finalists for a casino were the Rivers 78 just southwest of Roosevelt Road and Clark Street, and the Hard Rock Chicago just across DuSable Lake Shore Drive from Soldier Field.

In a statement, Hard Rock said, "The Hard Rock brand is currently expanding its portfolio of casinos, hotels and cafes in 72 different markets around the world. We were honored to have been named a finalist for the Chicago casino."

River West residents not so happy with casino choice

Mayor Lightfoot expressed opitimism about Bally's Chicago casino proposal in River West. Neighborhood residents feel very differently.

The Bally's casino would make River West a whole lot busier, and that is not sitting well with residents.

"I don't think it would be really good for the homeowners here due to the traffic, possible crime that could happen, and it just doesn't fit the neighborhood," Tom Radojicic said.

Many voiced their opposition in a recent neighborhood survey.

"I would say 90% or more of the survey responded no they are not in favor of it, and for a lot of the same reasons: crime, traffic, stress on the infrastructure here, lights, noise, all of those points," resident Mai Treya said.

"I'm very much opposed to it," said resident Rocky Perkovich. "I'm glad I don't live right on the river."

The size of the proposal was a sticking point for some residents.

"It's just too much. It's an unreasonable burden to place on the surrounding community," said Brian Israel of the River North Resident's Association.

While the mayor argues the casino would help shore up the city's pension funds and bring in thousands of jobs, many residents who oppose the plan said it would also bring less desirable elements, including lots of traffic, to an already congested neighborhood.

"I'd like my kids to enjoy the park and b e a le to walk around here. But bringing in a casino, I don't feel like we'll have the same level of safety," said Michele Berman, resident.

The neighborhood is filled with high-rise residential condo and apartment buildings.

While River West neighbors have been vocal, so have the communities in which the other two proposals were located.

"I don't want this in anyone's back yard. I think we can do better than a casino to raise revenue," Israel said.