CHICAGO — A city committee delayed a key vote on Chicago’s first casino Friday, but alderpeople say they are still on track to send the $1.74 billion River West proposal to the City Council next week.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), chairman of the Special Casino Committee, postponed an expected vote Friday after saying alderpeople received updated documents about the casino Thursday night and needed more time to sift through the changes. The committee is reviewing a community host agreement and an ordinance to green light the casino at the Chicago Tribune Publishing along the Chicago River.
Despite the last minute submissions, Tunney said the next steps still includes taking a committee vote Monday, and pushing a final vote through City Council on Wednesday. Next week’s final vote would meet a desired deadline from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, which has said it wanted the proposal finalized by the end of the month.
The 11th-hour changes to the ordinance include:
- A requirement the upfront $40 million payment from Bally’s Corporation goes straight into the city’s police and fire pension funds
- A requirement for Bally’s to file quarterly reports on hiring minorities
- A stipulation that directs fines for failing to meet minority hiring targets into a fund for contracting equity and workforce development programs
The committee also is reviewing a community host agreement — a voluminous document detailing everything from Bally’s license to operate, how big the casino must be and its deadlines to open — which was updated Thursday.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), one of the project’s biggest opponents, said the city was rushing the process and again compared it to the city’s beleaguered parking meter deal from 2008. Reilly also argued the casino, specifically the temporary site set for the Medinah Temple at 600 N. Wabash Ave., would lead to an increase in crime and traffic.
“This is being rushed through very quickly relying on one financial analysis … we’re being told to take that as gospel,” Reilly said.
Other aldermen questioned Bally’s projected $200 million in annual revenue. Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) asked the city for a guarantee on those figures.
But the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Jennie Huang Bennett, said there isn’t any way to guarantee those revenues “especially at the levels of tax rates the state of Illinois has imposed upon this casino.”
Bally’s has planned to launch the temporary casino in summer 2023, and the permanent site open in late 2025 or early 2026.
Revenue projections, starting at the opening of temporary site, show $55 million for 2024, $57 million in 2025, $170 million in 2026, $212 million in 2027 and $245 million in 2028.
“We have had at least a half a dozen different consultants look at the revenues,” Bennett said.
Several council members also asked if the retail space available on the Bally’s site would be affordable for small business owners or could be adjusted for those who don’t have a lot of upfront capital.
Bally’s executives responded saying rent for its retail spaces would depend on the cost of the build out and would priced at market value. Rent will “obviously” be different for tenants wanting to operate a coffee shop versus a large 24-hour restaurant, said Chris Jewett, Vice President Corporate Development at Bally’s.
Friday’s meeting was the third for the special casino committee before its expected vote Monday. Reilly asked if it was possible to delay the vote.
“I will get the temperature, figure out what the will of the body is, and take it one day at a time,” Tunney said as he urged fellow committee members to “do some studying this weekend.”
Lightfoot announced her final choice for Chicago’s first casino May 5, much to the dismay of residents, Reilly and neighboring Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). Since then, residents have attempted to organize against the decision by showing up in droves to public meetings, most recently a town hall hosted by the city’s Office of Community Engagement.
Residents living near the proposed casino site continue to be unimpressed with the plan, despite the entertainment amenities, $74 million in infrastructure improvements and an immense annual payout to the city.
If the casino proposal passes the special committee and City Council next week, it will move on to the Illinois Gaming Board for final approval.
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