New town hall meeting

Bally's and Chicago City officials defend casino project against residents' concerns

Townhall meeting Thursday evening at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
United States
Reading time 2:09 min

Just a few days after Chicago City selected Bally's to develop its first and sole casino, residents had their first opportunity to voice their reaction to this decision at a town hall meeting Thursday, where city officials and the operator tried to ease concerns around potential increased traffic, increased crime and decreased property values in the River West neighborhood.

Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim and other representatives, city leaders and a Chicago Police Department representative faced hundreds of residents who attended the gathering at the University of Illinois at Chicago to learn more about the proposal by Bally’s for a $1.7 billion casino, hotel and entertainment redevelopment at what is now the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant, as reported by Chicago Tribune. Some audience members accused the city of skirting public feedback by choosing a final proposal before a special City Council committee made a recommendation.

Bally's Chairman Soo Kim at Thursday's meeting.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was in Texas for campaign and official events on Thursday, addressed attendees in a video message, thanking them for their interest in the proposal and promoting it as a plan that will financially elevate Chicago. It’s estimated that the Bally’s proposal will generate about $200 million in annual tax revenue for the city, though some questioned those claims. But the main theme of many commenters was that casinos should not be located in residential areas.

Other attendees raised questions about predatory marketing and gambling addictions, asking Bally’s and city representatives how they plan to mitigate addiction. One man with Stop Predatory Gambling Illinois asked Bally’s whether they’re willing to ban ATMs on the gaming floors to reduce addiction. Also, a representative of the Chicago hospitality workers union, which represents many immigrant workers and women of color, said many people in the industry are still out of work after being laid off during the pandemic. She said she hopes the project gets underway so that people can be offered good jobs that will allow members to sustain their families. Speakers also questioned a plan for a pedestrian bridge that would link the entertainment complex to a nearby residential area, prompting Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim to say he would scrap that part of the plan.

Bally’s has signed a letter of intent to set up its temporary site, slated to open in Q2 2023, at the landmark Medinah Temple building, 600 N. Wabash Ave. in River North, a choice that has spurred its own neighborhood opposition, including from local Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, who raised concerns about a newly introduced ordinance to allow liquor to be served inside the temporary casino.

The permanent location is anticipated for Q1 2026. Some residents near the proposed permanent location have also strongly opposed the Bally’s proposal every step of the way.

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.


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