A special committee of the Chicago City Council is set to take a vote this week – perhaps as early as Monday – on whether to approve the agreement city leaders have in place with Bally’s Corp. for a $1.7 billion casino in America’s third-largest city. Should that vote succeed, the full council would then likely vote Wednesday.
That timeline was laid out during a more than three-hour meeting Friday of the special committee. The committee recessed and will resume its session at 1 pm CT Monday to continue talks on the project with representatives from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration and Bally’s.
Our hope is to have further discussion and a vote up or down on the casino legislation that’s before us… We’re going to try to get the majority of work done on Monday working in concert with City Council, so that on Wednesday, when we have our city council meeting, the (legislation) will be brought up for a vote by the city council,” Alderman Tom Tunney, the special committee’s chair, explained to the committee members on Friday.
The committee would likely vote on two items. First would be an ordinance amending Chicago city law to allow casino gaming in the city. The second would be a resolution regarding the host agreement between the city and Bally’s.
If the City Council signs off on the agreement, Bally’s application will then go before the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) for the state agency to consider the company for licensure. The city’s work on approving zoning changes would also commence.
“We need to allow the operator to submit their application to the IGB as soon as possible in order to hit our milestones for opening and revenue generation,” Chicago CFO Jennie Huang Bennett told the committee on Friday.
A temporary casino with about 800 slot machines is expected to open next year, contingent on licensure from the IGB. The permanent casino is expected to open in 2026. It would house 3,400 slot machines and 170 table games, making it the largest casino in Illinois.
Lightfoot’s Office Wants $40M ASAP
Another reason why Lightfoot is pushing for quick passage is the city’s financial need, according to comments Bennett made Friday.
Once Bally’s signs the agreement, it will give the city a one-time allocation of $40 million. That money will go toward the city’s pensions, Bennett said. That will also help mitigate what’s expected to be what she said was at least a $300 million shortfall in the upcoming budget.
Taxes on casino gaming revenues will go toward the city’s pensions for firefighters and police officers. That’s expected to cover about 9% of the city’s commitment to those plans. Beyond the tax money, Bally’s will also give the city $4 million annually, and that money will be used for public safety and other civic needs.
Samir Mayekar, Chicago’s deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, told the committee that the casino’s overall economic impact to the city will exceed $2 billion annually. That includes the 3,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs the casino will generate.
It’s expected that the council will support the city’s agreement. However, some residential groups whose neighborhoods are close to the casino’s proposed permanent location at the Chicago Tribune printing plant, have raised concerns about how a casino would affect public safety, traffic, and property values.
Through May 14, the River North Residents Association has received more than 2,750 responses to its neighborhood survey. Nearly 82 percent of the community’s residents “strongly oppose” the project at the Tribune site.
Kathy Smith, a Chicago resident who lives across the Chicago River from the Tribune site, said people living in the area don’t feel safe as it is and that adding an attraction set to bring thousands more on a daily basis will only make it worse.
“This has all been said before and, frankly, has fallen on deaf ears,” she said.
Bally’s Financial Strength Questioned
While much of the opposition has been targeted on the location of the casinos – the $70 million temporary casino at the Medinah Temple – there are some on the committee who question whether the city made the right choice from a business perspective.
Alderman Brian Hopkins, a council member whose ward surrounds but does not contain the proposed permanent site, has called on the committee to do its due diligence on the project. He criticized the plan to vote this week as an “artificial time pressure” with “a blizzard of documents” being tossed around at decision time.
Hopkins also raised questions about Bally’s financial strength and its ability to build a casino of this size. While the company has 14 casinos across the country, most of its growth has occurred through acquisitions
We could go into business with just about anyone in the gaming industry here because of what we’re offering… We could be more selective, and we could find a business partner that doesn’t have these concerns,” the alderman said Friday. “Their unsecured debt is actually valued right now at 80 cents on the dollar.”
Bennett noted that Bally’s has $1.7 billion cash on hand and provided letters of support from financial firms. That, plus the findings from an external consultant gives the city leaders confidence they have the right partner.
Bally’s beat out proposals from Hard Rock International and Rush Street Gaming to become the city’s preferred casino partner.
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