Chicago South Shore Business Owner On Bally’s McCormick Casino Bid: ‘We Can’t Be Afraid’

Written By Joe Boozell on February 11, 2022

Southside businesses are all-in on one of the five Chicago casino proposals: Bally’s McCormick Place.

Through its Community Rewards Program, Bally’s has made an effort to include local businesses in its pitch to land the coveted Illinois casino license. Patrons would be able to earn reward points and gift cards at the casino toward local southside businesses.

Jennifer Barnes, owner of South Shore Brew, and Sara Phillips, owner of Chef Sara’s Cafe, recently wrote in a letter that was published in various Chicago publications:

“During this period of recovery and regrowth, we need strategic allies. Allies that are willing to work in tandem with our small businesses and community members to help us rebuild. Bally’s Chicago is this kind of ally.”

With that said, not everyone is on board for a casino on the southside. Local Alderman Sophia King (4th) said:

“While I am open to the goals of using this new revenue stream to help Chicago deal with its overwhelming fiscal responsibilities, it should not be done at the expense of our communities, especially marginalized ones.”

Barnes, however, sees it differently, telling PlayIllinois:

“Any time there is an investment in the community, we have to get excited about it. We have to understand what our stake is and how we benefit, yes. But I think any time there is a very intentional investment, we have to clap around it. We can’t be afraid. That’s something generally that outside of this casino bid, we have to start getting excited about opportunities instead of being afraid.”

And continued:

“I think that spans across Black neighborhoods. We need to reimagine what opportunity looks like. Even if there are outside investors, how do we become part of the conversation — to shape it? There’s lots of talkers and doers in our neighborhoods, right? But how do we make sure we’re part of the doing?”

A different approach from Rivers and Bally’s?

As the Chicago casino license process unfolds, we are learning how various bidders are going about acting toward the community.

Rivers also has a proposal in a similar vicinity called Rivers Chicago McCormick. It is a bit north of the Bally’s McCormick proposal.

But when asked if Barnes had heard from Rivers at all throughout the process, the answer was no. As Mayor Lightfoot’s decision approaches, Bally’s seems to be rallying the troops to get as many people and businesses on board as possible.

A look at the 5 Chicago casino proposals

The city is currently sifting through five casino bids. Two are from Bally’s, two are from Rivers and another is from Hard Rock.

Their names and neighborhoods are:

  • Bally’s McCormick Place (South shore)
  • Bally’s Chicago Tribune Publishing Center (Near north side)
  • Rivers McCormick (Near south side)
  • Rivers 78 (South loop/Chinatown)
  • Hard Rock One Central  (Near south side)

As of now, the Hard Rock proposal appears to be the most far-fetched, as the One Central development is still theoretical and requires not-yet-approved billions in state financing.

Next steps in the process

Lightfoot has said that she hopes to select a winning bidder by the end of the first quarter this year. That means it should be no later than the end of March.

From there, the city and winning bidder would prepare an application for the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB). The IGB would need to approve the bidder’s application in order for the license to be granted and for construction to begin.

For other casino licenses, the IGB has taken quite a while to approve applications. In a few cases, it has taken more than two years.

Lightfoot has proactively urged the IGB to speed up its process for the Chicago casino license. But for now, there is nothing that the board can do. One of the biggest decisions of Lightfoot’s tenure awaits, and it will have a ripple effect across Chicago communities.

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, and Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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