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Chicago Casino Set For Final City Vote Wednesday After Committee OKs Bally’s Plan

The key vote came just weeks after Lightfoot announced Bally's was her top pick. The full City Council will vote on the controversial plan Wednesday.

Left: A rendering of Bally’s proposal for a $1.7 billion casino to be built at the Tribune Publishing site. Right top: Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) Right bottom: Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd)
Bally's/SCB; Stephanie Lulay/DNAinfo; Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago

DOWNTOWN — Chicago’s casino is one step closer to reality after it cleared a key city committee Monday.

The city’s special casino committee approved Bally’s plan to build a $1.74 billion casino and resort at the Tribune Publishing site in River West in a 27-3 vote Monday. It clears the way for the full City Council to vote on the plan Wednesday.

Alds. Brendan Reilly (42nd), Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Michele Smith (43th), who represent wards that neighbor the casino site, all voted no. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), whose ward includes the riverfront site, supported Bally’s plan.

“This was the last site I thought would be chosen,” Burnett said. “It’s amazing that it was chosen.”

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Monday’s vote comes just weeks after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Bally’s casino was her top pick and after just four meetings of the city’s special casino committee. The deal has been criticized by neighbors and aldermen, including Reilly who slammed the process as rushed and likened it to the much-loathed deal to privatize Chicago’s parking meters.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the casino committee, revealed Monday the city’s top two finalists were Bally’s and the $2 billion Rivers Casino proposal at The 78. Bally’s won because the company “wanted it the most,” made a deal with labor unions first and had no casinos in the area, Tunney said.

Bally’s also sweetened the deal by offering an upfront payment of $40 million to the city and $4 million in annual payments thereafter.

Bally’s has planned to launch the temporary casino in summer 2023, and the permanent site in late 2025 or early 2026.

The city’s revenue projections, starting from 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.

Reilly, whose ward would house the temporary site at the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., questioned city officials over the proposed revenues. To meet the projected $200 million in annual tax revenue, Bally’s would have to be operating on “super steroids,” he said Monday.

“You need to have this casino jam packed nearly every day of the year, performing at the highest level conceivable,” Reilly said.

The alderman also asked if Bally’s could guarantee its projections. Jennie Huang Bennett, the city’s chief financial officer, said that type of guarantee would come at the cost of the $40 million upfront payment the city negotiated.

The casino committee meeting Monday was sandwiched in during a recess in an effort to meet Lightfoot’s deadline of approving the casino by the end of the month. The committee was supposed to vote on the plan last week but it was delayed because members received key documents to consider the night before.

The committee received updates on the city’s agreement with the casino just hours before the vote was taken Monday.

Changed made to the agreement in the last week 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

Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) asked why the city is “moving heaven and earth” to get a final City Council vote done this week. Bennett said the city wants to get its application in with the Illinois Gaming Board as soon as possible, as it could take months for the gaming board to sign off.

Officials also want the upfront $40 million payment in the bank before the 2023 budget season, Bennett said.

Should the proposal clear the full City Council, the Illinois Gaming Board needs to sign off on the company before the casino can open.

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