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‘Disappointed But Not Surprised’: Outraged Alderman, Neighbors Pledge To Lobby Against Bally’s As Chicago’s 1st Casino

Lightfoot's pick is the Tribune Publishing site on the Chicago River — and aldermen are accusing her of sidestepping the city's casino committee. "Tired of these false, zero-sum choices that Chicago mayors have been setting up for decades," one tweeted.

Left: A rendering of Bally’s proposal for a $1.7 billion casino to be built at the Tribune Publishing site in River West. Right: Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).
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CHICAGO — Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and the River North Residents Association are drumming up support to block Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s bid to make Bally’s in River West the city’s first casino.

Lightfoot announced Thursday she has picked the casino for the Tribune Publishing site along the Chicago River over the objections of neighbors and alderpeople who accused the mayor of sidestepping the city’s own special casino committee.

The announcement came less than two days after Lightfoot denied multiple reports she would pick Bally’s over proposals at The 78 and Soldier Field and insisted the city’s process was ongoing. The casino still needs approval from the City Council and the Illinois Gaming Board.

Hopkins, who strongly opposes the Bally’s proposal, said Lightfoot’s move has frustrated several fellow alderpeople, and he is putting together a coalition to lobby and vote against the casino.

“[I’m] disappointed but not surprised,” Hopkins said. “Despite the mayor’s denial, she had met with the Bally’s team and made her decision in a closed-door meeting, which is the opposite of the transparency that we were promised.”

Hopkins didn’t say who’s agreed to formally oppose the Bally’s site, but he said an announcement would come in the “next few days.” The casino committee is set to meet Monday.

“Going against the mayor isn’t something you do lightly. You have think strategically,” Hopkins said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who also strongly opposes the Bally’s casino, took to Twitter to express his frustration. He did not respond to requests for further comment.

“We need a casino. We don’t necessarily need THIS casino. Tired of these false, zero-sum choices that Chicago mayors have been setting up for decades. Sorry but ‘take or leave it’ is not the hallmark of a deliberative process,” Reilly tweeted.

Reilly also said the special casino committee promised more hearings, testimony and opportunities to ask “more tough questions” to determine the best final choice.

City officials also promised more community meetings before making a final decision.

But Lightfoot insisted her decision wasn’t the “final decision,” saying “the City Council’s gotta vote.”

“That’s a clever use of semantics,” Reilly tweeted.

Members of the River North Residents Association, an outspoken group of neighbors who have opposed Bally’s since the beginning, said they are ready to lobby alderpeople to vote against the proposal.

More than 80 percent of the 2,300 people who have responded to the group’s ongoing survey have said they oppose Bally’s.

“We’re in lockstep with [Reilly and Hopkins] about the fact that this is an ill-advised project that will not be good for the community … and we hope that we can convince as many members of the City Council as are necessary to vote this down,” said Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), whose ward includes the Bally’s location, has wavered in his support for the casino. He previously said he did not explicitly oppose it — he told Block Club in April he “really doesn’t want to be bothered” with a casino — but also said he’d likely vote to approve whichever proposal the mayor brought to City Council. During Thursday’s news conference, Burnett welcomed the mayor’s pick, saying he “wasn’t afraid of change.”

“I look forward to all of us being prosperous. I look forward to all of us being successful. I look forward to Bally’s working with me in the community … [that whatever issues the community may have,] that we try to figure out a way to make it work,” Burnett said.

Credit: Bally’s/SCB
A rendering of Bally’s proposal for a $1.7 billion casino to be built at the Tribune Publishing site at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

The leader of another neighborhood group, Neighbors of River West, said the members are neutral about the proposal.

John Bosca, president of the organization, said during the news conference that Bally’s still has to go through “our process,” though he said he supports the project. He echoed Burnett and said, “We’re not afraid of change.”

The group typically works “arm and arm” with Burnett, but they couldn’t involvethe veteran alderman because of the rules involving the procurement process, Bosca said. He said the group has had one independent residents meeting with Bally’s, and more will be scheduled.

Casino committee chair Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has scheduled the committee’s next public meeting for 11 a.m. Monday. The agenda describes the hearing as a “subject matter hearing” to “discuss the finalists selected to develop a casino in Chicago.”

Additionally, the city has planned a town hall with Bally’s leadership 7-9 p.m. May 12 at the UIC Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road. Click here to register.

Here’s What’s Planned At The Bally’s Site

Bally’s leaders said their casino would have the highest annual payout for the city: nearly $200 million. All the companies had pledged to open a temporary casino in spring 2023 and finish a permanent one by late 2025 or early 2026.

The temporary casino will be located at the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., “due to its proximity to major transit and retail/hospitality corridors” and in an effort to boost nearby businesses struggling during COVID-19, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Lightfoot cited Bally’s financial benefits when announcing why it was picked, saying it will provide a $40 million upfront payment to the city and $4 million annually for the Host Community Agreement, and it’s the only operator that didn’t have a competing casino in the region.

Here’s what’s planned:

  • 170 table games.
  • 3,400 slots.
  • 3,000-seat theater.
  • Immerse Agency exhibition experience.
  • Riverwalk extension.
  • Pedestrian bridge.
  • 500-room hotel.
  • 2-acre outdoor park.
  • Outdoor music venue.
  • Amenity terrace with a pool spa, fitness center and sun deck.
  • Six restaurants, cafes and a food hall.

The project is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs per year and 3,000 permanent casino jobs, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Credit: Bally’s/SCB
A rendering of Bally’s proposal for a $1.7 billion casino to be built at the Tribune Publishing site at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

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