After seven-long months wait, Bally’s Chicago Casino is the winning bidder. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her administration made the announcement Thursday morning.
Bally’s was competing with Rivers and Hard Rock for the rights to build the Illinois casino.
Why Bally’s over the other two casinos?
A handful of reasons may have swayed Lightfoot and her council to select Bally’s over its other Illinois casino competitors.
First and foremost, Bally’s offered a $25 million payment to purchase the gaming license. They were the only company to pay that kind of money upfront.
Another reason Bally’s had the upper hand was because its casino project had higher projected revenue numbers than the other applicants. Lightfoot and her team made the projections.
Lastly, a source told the Sun-Times that a labor agreement was close to being finalized for the construction of Bally’s.
In an April meeting of the Chicago City Council, the group criticized each casino company for its lack of labor plans. That likely made Bally’s nearing an agreement a key factor in the decision.
Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter emphasized the importance of putting labor plans together in advance:
“We understand that development tourism tax revenue is critical for our city. But to move forward without a commitment to paying living wages and respect workers rights is a slap in the face to the entire labor movement in Chicago.”
According to Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett, the city expressed to each casino the impact that signing a labor agreement would have on the final decision for a new casino.
Next steps for Bally’s
Bally’s isn’t fully in the clear yet when it comes to starting construction for its new casino.
Now that the company has the green light to build a casino, it needs to haggle out the exact plans for the location with the Chicago City Council. That could end up being a contentious process for Bally’s.
Once everyone agrees at the city level, the casino plans will have to pass through the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB). The IGB will then review Bally’s application and issue a license.
If all of that goes off without a hitch, then Bally’s can actually start construction on its casino.
What to expect from Bally’s Casino Chicago
If the IGB issues Bally’s a license, then Bally’s will build its casino at the location of the Chicago Tribune printing site at Chicago Ave and Halsted St.
According to the proposal, a temporary casino would open on the same grounds as the permanent casino.
Features of the Bally’s casino include:
- Sports bar
- Chicago sports museum
- Rooftop area with a bar
- Lounges and pools
- 500-room hotel
The total estimated costs for the project will be around $1.7 billion.
Backlash continues from local politicians
From the early stages of the application bidding process, each casino faced heavy criticism from local leaders, political figures and Chicagoans. Bally’s has received its fair share of naysayers.
One vocal member of the opposition to building the casino is Ald. Brian Hopkins of the second ward, an area neighboring Bally’s possible construction site.
Hopkins voiced his displeasure with Lightfoot forming a City Council committee filled with her leadership team and only calling for one meeting with that committee. In the early phases of the bidding process for the casino, the group seemingly had the power to make decisions.
“It would look awful to empower this entire committee, and then not have that be the first step in terms of the final decision before the mayor says, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I mean — the whole thing is just a charade.”
Hopkins has also shed light on Bally’s inexperience in building a casino from scratch in a major market like Chicago. Bally’s purchased most of its 14 other casinos long after their grand openings.
Hopkins fears the community will feel the growing pains of the inexperienced team from Bally’s. That could become a bigger factor down the line since there will likely be unexpected hiccups during construction that will impact locals.
Political support for Bally’s Casino Chicago
Ald. Walter Burnett of the 27th ward, the area Bally’s plans to build in, believes the potential tax revenue from a casino is worth the extra traffic and other headaches that the casino may bring.
After speaking with locals, Burnett said that many are struggling financially because of recent tax increases:
“None of us coming into an election want to put that much burden on any more people. Everybody’s taxes went up last year because of the re-assessments. I’ve got people telling me they’re trying to unload their property. They can’t afford to keep ’em no more. I’m feeling for these folks. In my high-end neighborhoods and in my West Side neighborhoods they’re hurting. I can’t be a part of hurting everybody for a few people.”
Burnett is all for taking different avenues to avoid continued tax increases for citizens. Still, he’s unsure of the city’s better option than a casino to gain significant tax revenue.