2nd special committee meeting

Chicago City tries to ease new concerns around Bally's temporary casino, seeks to speed up process

Reading time 2:42 min

The Chicago City Council on Monday hosted the second-ever virtual meeting of the Special Committee on casinos, where members asked questions about plans for the city's first casino awarded to Bally's last week, with some expressing concerns about the temporary casino location in River North. Ultimately, the Illinois Gaming Board and full City Council still have to sign off on the project.

Alds. Brendan Reilly (42nd), Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Michele Smith (43rd), whose wards would neighbor the casino project, all oppose the proposal, they said Monday. They called on his colleagues to slow down the city’s rushed process.

The entertainment company plans to construct a $1.74 billion casino on a portion of the site of the current industrial Tribune Publishing Center in the River West neighborhood. The company anticipates operating a temporary casino at the Medinah Temple, slated to open in Q2 2023. This was chosen due to its proximity to major transit and retail/hospitality corridors, as well as its ability to assist in the City’s post-Covid revitalization. The permanent location is anticipated for Q1 2026. Along with a casino, the complete Bally's project will feature a 3,000-seat theatre, extended the Chicago Riverwalk and a pedestrian bridge and add a 500-room hotel.

"This temporary site downtown will bring visitors to a part of the city in need of enhanced economic need and vibrancy because of the impact of the pandemic," said Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor of Chicago, as reported by NBC Chicago.

In addition, on Monday it was made clear the site will still be able to serve liquor despite not having a license. "We will not be lifting any liquor moratoriums citywide," Mayekar said. "Certain establishments are exempt from moratoriums like hotels, restaurants, sports stadiums and casinos, consistent with policy."

At a news conference Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed concerns regarding the temporary location. "Bally's has made a commitment, $5 million, to safety around the site of the temporary casino. In addition to that, we will be supporting that using our community benefit dollars," she stated.

"In this process it is my goal and should be all goals to make sure this deal is as inclusive as many people as it can be for our city," said Ald. Jason Ervin of the city's 28th Ward and vice chair of the committee, during the special meeting Monday. "This is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities."

The proposed casino is in Alderman Walter Burnett's ward. Originally, he opposed it, but now Burnett supports it. "This is a great deal for the city, I think it would be irresponsible for us as a city council to allow for this cash cow not to happen in this city," he said.

Burnett said the deal would help pay police and fire pensions rather than turn to residents for a property tax increase. Others are asking for a firm commitment to make sure the casino money will be specifically earmarked for pensions.

Another council member who is opposed to the temporary casino, Ald. Brendan Reilly, of the city's 42nd Ward, questioned whether an analysis about crime and safety was conducted.

Officials estimate a casino could bring in $2 million dollars a year in tax revenue for police and fire pensions. Bally's said it would spend more than $75 million on several projects to ease traffic challenges in the area and invest in safety at both the temporary and permanent casinos.

Besides the speed of the process, there were more concerns from city council members about traffic, density and green space.

The mayor's office wants move ahead as quickly as possible because the process to get the casino approved is lengthy. After full city council approval, its next step is the Illinois Gaming Board and then back to city council for zoning and other approvals.

The City will host a community engagement event at UIC Forum, 725 W Roosevelt Road on May 12, 2022 from 7PM - 9PM. 

See Chicago City's full recommendation report here.

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