CHICAGO – West Loop, River West and River North neighbors continued to slam Bally’s casino planned for “in their backyard” as the saga to finalize Chicago’s first casino continues.
In a third town hall hosted Thursday by the city’s Office of Community Engagement, Bally’s executives and city officials took questions and comments from about 40 people before cutting them off, with most rallying against the proposal. About 300 people attended the meeting.
On May 5, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Bally’s casino planned for the Tribune Publishing site in River West was her pick after a phased process that saw multiple applicants narrowed to three finalists in March.
Compared with the two other finalists, the Hard Rock proposal near Solider Field and Rivers planned at The 78, Bally’s had more immediate cash available which will be earmarked for the city’s 2023 budget, according to the city’s recommendation report. Those financial benefits include a $40 million upfront payment and $4 million annually thereafter, which city officials touted as “one of the highest casino fixed incentives of any major US city” post-recession.
Residents said Thursday’s town hall read like the riverfront Bally’s casino is a “done deal.” But the special casino committee still needs approve the ordinance to allow a casino to operate in Chicago and City Council needs to approve the mayor’s final pick. The state’s gaming board will have to sign off, too.
“We are connected to you — or we will be connected to you if we are successful,” Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim said at the meeting.
Despite the entertainment amenities it will add, $74 million in infrastructure improvements and immense $200 million annual payout to the city, residents living near the proposed casino site continue to be unimpressed with the plan.
Many concerns expressed at the meeting came from first-time and recent homebuyers living in River West, the West Loop and River North, who said they never expected to live near a casino when they moved there.
“I’m 78 years old … I just moved to an area right by the park, there’s a dog park and people walking with baby carriages and it’s what we wanted,” said River West resident Wendell Katie. “I’m not a wealthy man, but I’d pay the additional [property] taxes” to avoid a casino.
One resident jokingly asked Bally’s officials to buy his condo, which is directly across the river from the Tribune Publishing site.
Many residents also continued to question Bally’s plan to deter crime around the casino. Bally’s is required by the Illinois Game Board to submit a safety plan, which will go through an extensive review process to ultimately receive approval before operating, city officials said.
Additionally, citing an independent study from Massachusetts, Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said areas surrounding casinos see “a very marginal if any increase in crime.”
Regardless, the proposal still has several hurdles to clear before it becomes official. Neighboring aldermen Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) oppose the plan, with Hopkins vowing to lobby other aldermen to vote against it.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), whose ward includes the River West site, has said he supports the plan. Burnett was not present at Thursday’s town hall.
Lightfoot’s administration officially filed a proposed casino ordinance Monday which would pave the way for Bally’s to open a casino at the prime riverfront site. It’s expected to be approved by the committee by the end of the month and sent to City Council for final approval, according to city officials.
No date has been published yet for the next casino committee meeting.
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