A crucial vote on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to tap Bally’s to build a casino in River West was delayed Friday, as several members of the Chicago City Council peppered officials with a wide range of questions about the plan.
Even though Lightfoot stacked a special City Council committee with her allies to consider the casino proposal, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) acknowledged Friday that the mayor did not have enough support to advance the plan to build a casino and resort on what is now the Chicago Tribune printing plant and newsroom near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.
However, Tunney said he would reconvene the committee and try again Monday, and urged his colleagues to spend the weekend studying the massive agreement between the city and Bally’s as well as the ordinance that would allow casino gambling in Chicago for the first time in the city’s history.
The Chicago City Council is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Monday. The plan unveiled by Tunney calls for that meeting to be recessed by 1 p.m., to allow the casino committee to meet and vote on the proposal. That would allow the plan to be sent to the full City Council, which could reconvene at 4 p.m., Tunney said.
After accepting the committee’s recommendation, the matter would be deferred and published until 10 a.m. Wednesday, when a final vote could occur.
Lightfoot said she did not object to the delay, adding that she was confident the casino proposal would win the support of the Chicago City Council and head to the Illinois Gaming Board.
“This is a very big decision,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference.
However, Lightfoot made it clear that if the City Council wants to avoid having to hike property taxes in an election year, they should act fast. Lightfoot is counting on a casino to boost the city’s economy and funnel approximately $200 million into its police and fire pension funds, significantly easing the pressure on the city’s finances.
“I’m anxious to get a vote, so the revenues start to flow,” Lightfoot said. “There is a sense of urgency.”
While a temporary casino could open as soon as next year, the permanent casino will not open before 2026 and the city’s feasibility study says it would not ring up $191.7 million until its sixth year of operations.
That unorthodox and nearly unprecedented timeline encountered fierce resistance from Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), who again likened the proposal to the ill-fated and much loathed 2008 deal that leased the city’s parking meters — in addition to all of the revenue from the meters — to a private company.
“I think we have been given some false choices here,” Reilly said. “The bottom line is that this is being rushed through very quickly.”
Reilly also vehemently opposes plans for a temporary casino at the Medinah Temple in River North, which he said would be a beacon for crime.
Lightfoot and her top officials have touted the proposal from Bally’s as the most lucrative proposal the city received and said the casino would be an “iconic” addition to Chicago’s riverfront.
The $1.73 billion casino would have 3,400 slots and 173 table games. The resort would have six restaurants and cafes in addition to a food hall and three bars and lounges. It would also feature a 3,000-seat, 70,000-square-foot concert venue and a 20,000 square-foot event venue in addition to outdoor bars, lounges and pools along the Chicago River.
The casino would create 3,000 permanent jobs and 3,000 construction jobs every year, officials said. An agreement with the Chicago Federation of Labor will ensure those workers can unionize.
Bally’s will also offer the city an upfront payment of $40 million for the license, and $4 million annually. The annual payment will be divided in half, with half going to fund public safety initiatives citywide and half focused on the area around the casino to improve public safety and ameliorate any impact on nearby residents.
Samir Mayekar, the deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, said the casino would help the city recover from the economic catastrophe caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was especially brutal for the tourism, travel and hospitality industries.
Bally’s officials said they would spend more than $75 million on 30 projects designed to ease gridlock in River West and River North. Officials also told alderpeople that the casino would cause less traffic than the project approved by the city in 2018, which included mostly office space.
Bally’s has put together a consortium — the Chicago Community Builder’s Collective — of design and construction firms owned by Black, Latino and female Chicagoans to work on the project.
Bally’s has told city officials they will meet the requirements imposed by city officials that 25% of the facility be owned by Black, Latino or Asian shareholders, 50% of its employees be from Chicago and at least 26% of the construction contracts go to firms owned by women or Black, Latino or Asian Chicagoans.