Chicago Officials Give Final Approval to Bally’s Casino Complex in River West

The proposed casino is set to be built on the Chicago Tribune printing plant and newsroom site near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. (WTTW News)The proposed casino is set to be built on the Chicago Tribune printing plant and newsroom site near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. (WTTW News)

The Chicago City Council voted 39-5 to approve plans to transform the home of the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant and newsroom into a $1.74 billion Bally’s casino and resort on 30 acres in River West.

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The proposal still needs the support of the Illinois Gaming Board, which must license Bally’s to operate the casino before work can begin along the Chicago River near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

“I’m for this casino because I’m for the future of this city,” said Ald. Walter Burnett, whose 27th Ward will include the casino.

The lopsided vote is a victory for Mayor Lori Lightfoot as she runs for reelection. She will no doubt emphasize that she succeeded in bringing a casino to Chicago in three years after former Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel failed for 30 years.

Lightfoot was able to convince state lawmakers to revise the tax structure for a Chicago casino in May 2020.

“This is something that three administrations have been trying to do,” Burnett said. “Three administrations, for over 30 years, have been trying to do it. This mayor got it done.”

Alds. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), Anthony Beale (9th Ward), Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) and Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) and Ed Burke (14th Ward) voted against the project.

The leading critic of the measure, Reilly has said he is “very frustrated” that he has not seen a plan detailing public safety efforts in and around the casino and blasted a recently completed traffic study as insufficient.

“Remember this day,” Reilly said. “I do hope that the opponents of the casino are wrong. But I don’t think we are.”

Bally’s Chicago casino is set to have have 3,400 slots and 173 table games in addition to an exhibition hall, 500-room hotel, a 3,000-seat theater and 11 restaurants. However, the complex will not include an outdoor concert venue along the river, after that proposal drew intense criticism from nearby residents, and a pedestrian bridge.

Instead, the development will include a 2,100-square-foot park and walking path along the river and a three-level underground parking garage, according to the plans released by city officials.

City Council members have repeatedly heard impassioned pleas from representatives of Chicago’s powerful labor unions, who said the 3,000 construction jobs the casino is expected to create every year and the 3,000 permanent jobs were desperately needed in the hospitality industry that has yet to recover from the economic catastrophe triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bally’s inked an agreement with the Chicago Federation of Labor to ensure construction and casino workers are allowed to unionize. In addition, the casino firm promised that 60% of the jobs created by the casino will be filled by Black, Latino or Asian workers.

Bally’s will also create a jobs program specifically targeting Chicago neighborhoods with the highest levels of unemployment and lowest income, according to the mayor’s office. 

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.

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, while creating thousands of jobs and drawing tourists — and their fat wallets.

A temporary casino is set to open at the Medinah Temple in River North next year, while a permanent casino could open as soon as early 2026.

In other action, the City Council voted unanimously to confirm Lightfoot’s pick of Anabel Abarca to replace former Ald. George Cardenas to represent the 12th Ward.

Abarca, a McKinley Park resident and attorney, was the only one of the four people to apply to fill the vacant seat on the City Council who is also running for the spot in the Feb. 28 election. 

Abarca now has a leg up in the already underway race to win a full, four-year term on the City Council. She faces Julia Ramirez and Joseph Mercado in the contest. Ramirez has the endorsement of United Working Families, a progressive political organization closely aligned with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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