RIVER WEST — Chicago is making grand plans to open a world-class casino — but three of the alderpeople who represent the potential sites don’t want a gambling mecca in their ward.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) is the latest alderperson to say he doesn’t want a casino as Bally’s is lobbying to open at the Tribune Publishing site in his ward. Burnett’s comments follow Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who are contending with casino bids from Rivers, which has its sights set on The 78 megadevelopment, and Hard Rock, which aims to open near Soldier Field.
Burnett told Block Club Wednesday that he “really doesn’t want to be bothered” with a casino.
“I actually hope they don’t choose my area,” the veteran alderman said. “… No one wants to be in this position because you’re darned if you do, darned if you don’t.”
Bally’s, Rivers and Hard Rock were the three finalists chosen last month by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to host Chicago’s first casino. Earlier this month, Sigcho-Lopez said he “cannot support” a casino at The 78; Dowell said she couldn’t support one Monday. Ald. Sophia King (4th) also represents part of the One Central site Hard Rock would be in.
Neighbors living near the prime River West site in Burnett’s ward have largely rejected Bally’s plan. At a meeting with 500 neighbors in attendance earlier this month, most said they don’t want a casino in the neighborhood.
Despite the opposition, Burnett said at the time he believed said a “silent majority” supported the plan.
Nearly 80 percent of 1,926 neighbors who responded to a survey from the River North Residential Association also are against the Bally’s plan, leaders said. How a casino would affect crime, traffic and property values are chief among their concerns.
Bally’s $1.7 billion casino proposal for the Tribune Publishing site along 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.
The Bally’s site would also bring in the most tax revenue for the city of the three finalists, casino leaders promised, citing up to $192 million in annual tax revenue.
Burnett acknowledged the city needs a casino to pay for its police and fire pension obligations. If Bally’s River West plan is chosen, he can deal with it, he said.
“I’m still listening to everybody — residents, property owners, everyone,” Burnett said. “But if they chose my areas, I won’t necessarily go against it.
… Really most of us really don’t want to bother with it … so if it don’t happen in my area, that’s fine.”
Burnett said it’s hard to gauge whether residents support a casino until a site is chosen.
“Right now, the people who want it aren’t saying anything,” he said.
River North Residential Association leaders said less than 13 percent of neighbors polled support the plan.
The River North survey responses have been sent to Lightfoot’s office and her casino committee, said Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association.
The survey will remain open and results will be continuously updated until the final decision is made, Israel said.
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, casino leaders said.
Bally’s leaders said traffic studies conducted on the site show there would be a 60 percent reduction in morning rush-hour traffic if the casino is built. They also argue the properties that surround casinos have been shown to be “some of the safest” areas and can lead to economic prosperity for the surrounding neighborhood.
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