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Lightfoot’s Hand-Picked Casino Review Group Gets Council Backing, Though Critics Blast ‘Undemocratic’ Process

The committee will oversee all facets of the Chicago casino proposal and is led by mayoral allies.

The Rivers 78 Gaming proposed casino.
Provided/City of Chicago
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CHICAGO — A City Council committee will be created to oversee the complicated process to launch the city’s first casino, but alderpeople accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of excluding critics from the board and pushing through a vote with less than one day’s notice.

The committee, made up of Lightfoot’s committee chairs and vice chairs, will have jurisdiction over all matters related to the establishment of the Chicago casino. It will be dissolved once the committee approves a casino proposal and sends it to the full City Council.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) will chair the group, and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) will be co-chair.

The committee was introduced to many alderpeople Tuesday, when Lightfoot announced she had narrowed the casino finalists from five to three. Lightfoot’s team emailed alderpeople late Tuesday to inform them the creation of the committee would be up for a vote on Wednesday.

But several alderpeople who won’t serve on the committee, including Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), whose ward includes one of the three casino finalists, argued the committee should include the entire City Council.

“The 25th Ward will be directly affected,” Sigcho-Lopez said, arguing it was “problematic and undemocratic” to leave his community out of the deliberations. Hundreds of residents in the 25th ward have pushed back against a casino location in their neighborhood.

But City Council voted 35-12 Wednesday to create the board after knocking back an attempt from Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) to expand who would be on it.

Beale said the City Council has “all the committees necessary” to consider the casino proposal without creating another one.

“We all know we want to create a committee with the chairs and the vice chairs because we know that’s the path of least resistance, we understand that,” he said. “This body is still the checks and balances of this city.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks at a City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th) argued “this is not bringing in the light,” a reference to Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign slogan promising to bring transparency to City Hall.

Tunney said creating the committee was appropriate because the casino deal will touch on “seven or eight” facets of city government, including zoning changes, building permits, financing requests and intrusions on the public way.

“This is to make it more efficient. It is not to stifle anybody,” Tunney said. 

Tunney also said his high regard for aldermanic prerogative — the tradition of deferring to the alderperson on issues affecting their wards — would ensure Sigcho-Lopez will have influence on the committee, even if he doesn’t have a vote.

“If he knows my demeanor and he knows the way I handle my Zoning Committee, he’s going to have an important voice,” Tunney said. 

Lightfoot defended the committee at her post-City Council news conference. 

“Every single member of City Council will have more than ample opportunity to participate, obviously, in a public engagement, in briefings, and then the committee hearing or hearings that will come once a final respondent has been chosen,” she said. 

There will be three community meetings held for residents to discuss each of the proposals 6-8 p.m April 5-7.

In-person attendance will be prioritized for residents in the ZIP codes and then on a first-come, first-served basis capped at 300 people. The meetings will also be livestreamed.

April 5: Hard Rock at One Central

Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St.

April 6: Bally’s Tribune 

Tribune Publishing Plant, 700 W. Chicago Ave.

April 7: Rivers 78 

Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road

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