Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday that the city would move forward with Bally’s Corp. as its pick to operate a casino in the Illinois metropolis.
The announcement, which has been anticipated, came after the Rhode Island-based gaming company reached a deal with local labor unions. It was a step Chicago officials considered a linchpin to construct a more than $1.7 billion casino where the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant sits, a couple of miles northwest of the city’s Loop downtown district.
An evaluation report released Thursday also showed that Bally’s proposal would deliver more value to the city than projects offered by Hard Rock International and Rush Street Gaming.
Bally’s gaming floor will feature 3,400 slot machines and 170 table games. It also will include a hotel with up to 500 rooms, a 3,000-seat theatre, an outdoor amphitheater, and six eateries.
Importantly, the team is committed to seeking additional community input to guide these redevelopments,” Lightfoot said during a Thursday press conference. “Regarding design, Bally’s has also been very receptive to city feedback. Its hotel and casino design have been sited and sculpted to form an iconic, memorable gateway and skyline along the Chicago River – meaning that once completed, it will seamlessly blend in to our city’s existing landscape.”
The next phase will involve a host community agreement (HCA) that will lock into place the agreed-to terms. That pact will then go before a special City Council committee.
Once the HCA is signed, Bally’s has agreed to pay the city $40 million. That’s up from the company’s initial pledge of $25 million. After that, the company will pay the city $4 million a year beyond tax revenues.
The casino itself will employ 3,000 workers, and the construction portion of the project will create another 3,000 jobs. Previous city reports put the number of construction jobs at 9,750.
Kim: Bally’s Commits to Inclusion
In speaking to reporters Thursday, Kim said Bally’s is ready to invest in the city and make its case why it should be the casino operator.
The company’s chairman added the casino project would not just help the city meet its commitments to bolster pensions for Chicago firefighters and police officers. It also would help the city meet objectives for inclusiveness as well.
“We understand how important it is for all of the laborers here to work together to build this casino and then to operate the casino together, and what an opportunity it is for them,” he said. “We understand how for all the underrepresented groups that in some ways capitalism has left behind that this is a project that will include them.”
Bally’s will allow people to make microinvestments in the project, and Lightfoot said those individuals will still earn a “meaningful” return.
Not All Back Casino Plan
Several aldermen on the Chicago City Council have lined up to express their support, including Alderman Walter Burnett, a Democrat who represents the ward where Bally’s plans to build the casino.
“It will be a world-class entertainment destination that provides jobs, boost tourism numbers and brings a host of incredible amenities into the 27th ward,” Burnett said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city of Chicago and it will be a premier destination for generations to come.”
However, there still remain groups opposed or concerned about the project. That includes the adjacent River North neighborhood, where 80% of those taking a survey have expressed strong opposition to a casino near their community.
After Lightfoot announced her decision, the alderman representing the neighborhood criticized the move. He said it went against the plan to review further all three remaining proposals.
“We were also told the Council’s Special Casino Committee would hold more hearings, gather more testimony and ask more tough questions to determine what is in Chicago’s best interest,” Alderman Brendan Reilly tweeted. “The process was flawed from day one, but now that process is being thrown out the window entirely.”
An announcement issued Wednesday for a casino committee meeting on Monday specifically mentioned discussing the finalists selected.
Reilly, who said he supports the city building a casino, also had significant concerns that the $70 million temporary venue initially slated for the Tribune site would instead be located within his ward.
I’m 100% against the temporary location being in River North and informed the Mayor’s Office of that a while ago. As of Wednesday, the temp location was to be at the Trib Warehouse. This is a bait & switch. There’s a liquor moratorium there too, so enjoy the cards & apple juice.
— Brendan Reilly (@AldReilly) May 5, 2022
If the City Council approves the Bally’s agreement, the proposal would then go before the Illinois Gaming Board to issue a license to the company.
The city will also hold a community event at the University of Illinois-Chicago next Thursday evening regarding the project.
Bally’s Beat Two Competitors
Lightfoot said she notified the other contenders of the news before the announcement.
Hard Rock proposed building its casino in a planned development near Soldier Field. It, too, offered to develop a $1.74 billion project with a 500-room hotel, a concert venue, and other amenities.
“The Hard Rock brand is currently expanding its portfolio of casinos, hotels, and cafes in 72 different markets around the world,” the Florida-based company said in a statement. “We were honored to have been named a finalist for the Chicago Casino.”
Rush Street and development partner Related Midwest proposed a $1.62 billion casino project. It would have been located in a new neighborhood development proposed along the Chicago River, on the Near South Side of the city. Besides the casino, it proposed a 300-room hotel and a 1,000-foot observatory tower among its amenities.
“We believe in the future of Chicago and we wish the city and Bally’s every success,” Rush Street said in its release.
When Chicago first released its request for proposals last year, it appeared that only Rush Street and Related Midwest would respond. That led city officials to extend the Aug. 23 deadline to Oct. 29. Lightfoot also publicly made it clear she wanted multiple bids from established gaming companies.
However, many operators, such as MGM Resorts International, were turned off by the tax structure of the project. Even after state lawmakers reworked the taxes from an initial effective rate of 72% for the only casino license in Chicago, the relative rate remains around 40%.
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