SOUTH LOOP — Hundreds showed up to hear Related Midwest and billionaire Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming sell their plan for a Rivers Casino at The 78 megadevelopment at town hall Thursday.
The development team had their work cut out for them, as the area’s alderman has already said he can’t support a casino at the site and a community advisory council’s survey found neighbors also overwhelming oppose the plan. Neighbors who staged a protest before the meeting and about two-thirds of those who spoke at it said they don’t want a casino nearby.
The $2 billion Rivers Casino on the south branch of the Chicago River and would feature a riverfront venue and plaza, a 300-room luxury hotel and eight restaurants, bars, cafes and lounges. There would be 2,600 slots and 190 table games, developers said.
Developers promised the casino would bring jobs to the area, and decrease crime. They also pledged to work with with South Side restaurateurs, including in Chinatown and Little Village.
A handful of people spoke in favor of the project, telling the crowd their minority- or woman-owned business was hired to work on the project by Related Midwest and the employment opportunity created a lot of jobs.
But most neighbors weren’t swayed by the developer’s plan, saying a casino would be detrimental for problem gambling — especially in Chinatown, where residents have previously been targeted by exploitative marketing and practices. Many people also brought up The 78’s proximity to several schools and said they worried it will bring more crime to the area and hurt small businesses.
“Casinos will have a particularly bad impact on Chinatown, which already struggles with problem gambling,” one resident said. “Please don’t put our community through anything more. We are just starting to recover.”
Shivani Patel, a South Loop mother and a pediatrician, said problem gambling starts with permissive gambling.
“If we tell our kids that it is okay to go gamble at the neighborhood casino, it teaches them that gambling is okay, and it leads to the next step,” she said.
Prior to the meeting, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he “cannot support” a casino being built in his ward without the support of residents. After Thursday’s meeting, he said he still has many questions and concerns about the idea.
Officials from the 25th and 11th wards’ independent political organizations staged a protest before the meeting. They were met by counter-protesters who wore The 78 gear and chanted about the economic opportunities The 78 and a casino would bring. Some of these protesters were people whose businesses were contracted out by Related Midwest for the project.
Members of The 78 Community Advisory Council, the city-appointed group charged with gathering resident feedback on the development project, also held a news conference before the meeting, speaking out against what they call a lack of transparency regarding the casino decision process.
Others who spoke in support of the casino said they didn’t know about the 78 Community Advisory Council’s community feedback survey, and they would’ve voiced their support if they had known about it. The results showed respondents overwhelmingly said they didn’t want a casino. Of the 378 neighbors polled, 78 percent said they were either “highly unsupportive” or “somewhat unsupportive” of Rivers’ casino proposal.
Kenny Yang, owner of Kenny Kee in Chinatown, said he’s in support of the casino because it will attract tourists to spend their money in Chicago instead of neighboring Indiana casinos.
“I think spending money in Indiana or keeping money in Chicago, I would choose to keep the money in Chicago,” he said.
Thursday’s meeting at UIC’s Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, was the third in a series of community meetings on the three finalist casino proposals.
Aside from The 78, Hard Rock wants to build a casino near Soldier Field and Bally’s has proposed one at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center in River West. Residents near the other two sites largely oppose those plans, too.
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