RIVER WEST — Leaders who want to build a Bally’s casino on a prime riverfront site were met with a message from River West neighbors Wednesday night: “Absolutely not.”
Of the nearly 500 neighbors who came out to a town hall to hear about the $1.7 billion casino planned for the Tribune Publishing Center, 777 Chicago Ave., many said they don’t want a casino in the neighborhood. But Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who represents the area, said he believes a “silent majority” will support it.
Bally’s, a premier gaming company with 16 casinos nationwide, was one of three finalists chosen last month by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to host Chicago’s first casino.
It’s proposed location on the Chicago River boasts state-of-the-art amenities: a 3,000-seat entertainment center, a 500-room luxury hotel, a museum, public green space and a 2,100-foot extension of the Chicago Riverwalk. The casino itself would include 3,400 slots and 173 gaming tables.
If given the green light, Bally’s would have a temporary casino up and running in a year and the permanent building ready to open in three years, leaders said.
The Bally’s proposal would bring in the most tax revenue for the city of the three finalists, leaders promised, citing up to $192 million in annual tax revenue.
Company officials also said they plan to hire the most people of color of the three finalists, committing to hiring mostly minorities, working with minority contractors and dedicating 25 percent ownership of the company to the community.
Many neighbors weren’t impressed by Bally’s plan. They asked how the casino would deter crime and how it would limit noise so it wouldn’t interrupt the quiet evenings they enjoy now. Some residents also asked about how it would affect the property value on their homes.
Bally’s executives worked to assuage neighbors’ fears, saying that casinos and neighboring properties are “some of the safest” areas and can lead to economic prosperity for the surrounding neighborhood.
But some neighbors, including the River North Neighborhood Association and several neighboring condo associations, were firm. They don’t want a casino in their neighborhood, they said.
“I’m just gonna say it, flat out no,” said a River West neighbor to a thunderous applause. “This casino does not belong in a neighborhood. You need to show the benefit of a casino to this neighborhood and day right we have not articulated one good reason.”
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said that although not many people in support of the casino showed up to the meeting, he says there’s actually a “silent majority” who want a casino in the neighborhood. The catch is, he said, is that you won’t find them at the public meeting.
“A lot of my senior citizens who don’t come to these things like to gamble,” Burnett said. “I’ve only had maybe four emails … a handful you know against. And most of those folks don’t live in my ward, they live in River North.”
Burnett wouldn’t say if he supports the Bally’s plan specifically. But he acknowledged the city needs help paying for Chicago police and fire pensions, and a casino would fund that.
“Whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, I really don’t mind,” Burnett said. “But if it was here I would try to get everything out of it for my community. I’ve told my community organizations, tell me what you want and what you need in the neighborhood and lets try to get it.”
The team behind the Hard Rock casino proposal near Solider Field shared their plans with neighbors Tuesday.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: