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Chicago Casino Approved By City Council After Screaming Match Between Mayor, Alderman

After a heated vote, the $1.7 billion casino planned for the Tribune Publishing site now goes to the state's gaming board for final approval. Here's what it will look like.

Left: A rendering shows what Bally's River West casino could look like: Top right: Mayor Lori Lightfoot Bottom right: Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th)
Bally's/SCB; Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Chicago’s first casino is almost a done deal after City Council approved the plan Wednesday.

Bally’s plan to build a $1.7 billion riverfront casino and resort at the Tribune Publishing site in River West was approved by a 41-7 vote. Now it heads to the Illinois Gaming Board for final approval.

See how your alderperson voted:

Credit: Screenshot
Chicago City Council votes on the city’s first casino at the Tribune Publishing site in River West on May 25, 2022.

Wednesday’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. Bally’s plans to launch a temporary casino at River North’s Medinah Temple in summer 2023, and the permanent casino in late 2025 or early 2026.

The deal has been criticized by neighbors and alderpeople, some who slammed the process as rushed as the much-loathed Chicago’s parking meter deal. But Lightfoot’s administration and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who led the city’s special casino committee, said the casino is a good deal for the city, one that was picked during a three year-process, which started with a survey in summer 2019.

“It goes without saying that this is a major, major milestone in our city,” Lightfoot said at a press conference following the meeting. “I’ve talked about the fact that for over the last three decades, this was tried but but not accomplished. And now because of the work of so many people who are here with us today, and thanks to today’s approval by City Council, we are making a long sought dream a reality.”

Soo Kim, chairman of Bally’s Corporation, said their team was “honored” by the city’s decision.

“We understand what a responsibility it really is and how many promises it allows the city of Chicago to keep to its police and firemen, to the hard hit workers in the in the trades. All of the underrepresented groups of Black and Brown [people] that have missed out on economic prosperity,” Kim said. “We know all of these promises for all of these opportunities that can be shared with all these groups, and this casino allows for all of it.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The proposed site of the Bally’s casino at the Tribune Publishing site in River West.

The Bally’s casino is projected to bring in $200 million in tax revenue to offset the city’s police and fire pension debt by the permanent casino’s second year in business, the most of any of the three casino finalists. The temporary casino will initially bring in $55 million in tax dollars, city officials said.

Bally’s also became Lightfoot’s front-runner because it agreed to provide an upfront payment of $40 million to the city and $4 million in annual payments after that. It also won because the company “wanted it the most,” made a deal with labor unions first and had no casinos in the area, Tunney previously said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who opposed the casino site, raised questions about the casino’s revenue projections Wednesday because of the city consulting firm’s ties to Bally’s. Crain’s reported Union Gaming, the consulting firm the city has leaned on through the casino study and selection process, was hired by Bally’s for other work in the past year.

In a heated exchange on the council floor, Pilsen Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) called the casino’s vetting process a sham.

“I know Mayor Lightfoot does not want to hear the facts, and it’s convenient to ignore the facts,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “I think as legislators we have the responsibility to review this process, a failed process, in an administration that is more worried about campaign contributions than doing the right thing for the city of Chicago.”

Lightfoot fired back: “I will not tolerate you besmirching the hard work of so many people who have worked on this. Almost every word that comes out of your mouth after you saw your name is a lie.”

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) whose ward includes the Tribune site, said some residents in his ward don’t want the casino, but he supports it because it will help the city meet its pension obligations without raising taxes.

“We need to seize the moment,” Burnett said. “…“There hasn’t been anything that has been built in my ward that has hurt the residents of my ward.”

Credit: City of Chicago
A rendering shows what a Bally’s casino planned for Tribune Publishing could look like.

The permanent Bally’s casino at Tribune Publishing, 700 W. Chicago Ave., will include 3,400 slots, 173 table games, 500 hotel rooms, a 3,000-seat entertainment venue, six restaurants, a food hall and three bars. The company has committed to $75 million to infrastructure improvement projects around the casino site, which include projects ranging from synchronized traffic signals to reconstruction and widening of nearby roads.

RELATED: Chicago’s Casino Will Have A 3,000-Seat Theater, A 2-Acre Park, An Extended Riverwalk And More. Here’s What To Expect

City Council’s sign off on the casino meets the Lightfoot administration’s self-imposed deadline to send the casino application to state officials by the end of the month.

See more renderings of the Bally’s proposal here:

Credit: Bally’s/SCB
Credit: Bally’s/SCB
Credit: Bally’s/SCB
Credit: Bally’s/SCB
Credit: Bally’s/SCB
Credit: Bally’s/SCB
Credit: Bally’s/SCB

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