Chicago Casino Opposition Piles Up As More Local Officials Express Concern

Written By Joe Boozell on April 26, 2022
Lori Lightfoot

As we get closer and closer to a final decision on the Chicago casino license, the backlash continues to mount.

The Chicago City Council held a special meeting on Monday in which labor leaders took their turn in criticizing the process to date. There are currently three bidders remaining, none of whom have signed a labor agreement.

Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said:

“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.”

The concerns are having an impact on at least some local officials. Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, said a labor agreement was “very important if this is going to have a snowball’s chance of going anywhere.”

Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett has said that the city has told the remaining applicants that signing a labor agreement will play an important role in the final decision.

The three bidders are Bally’s Chicago, Hard Rock Chicago and Rivers 78. And the labor issues are certainly not the first concerns these companies have faced.

Residents, politicians voice Chicago casino opposition

The city held community meetings for each casino proposal earlier this month. All three groups faced tough questions, and there was even a protest outside of one of the meetings.

We’ll give a quick rundown on the major concerns and/or notable criticism for each bid.

Rivers 78

There are serious concerns that putting a casino so close to Chinatown could be bad for residents.

David Wu, Pui Tak Center executive director, said of the Chinese community:

“As immigrants, they work really hard in restaurants and other businesses and their life is tough. And so the allure of gambling as you know, I’ve been working really hard and making just a little progress. Financially, maybe I can strike it rich.”

Part of the issue is that there is a lack of problem gambling resources due to language and cultural barriers.

Grace Chan McKibben, Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community executive director, participated in a protest outside of the Rivers 78 meeting. She said:

“We are the most concerned about having a casino that is located within walking distance to Chinatown.”

McKibben has also said that Chinatown residents have been “uniquely preyed upon” by gaming companies.

Meanwhile, Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) also opposes the project. He even accused the selection process of being “rigged” in Rivers’ favor.

Hard Rock One Central

Much of the criticism surrounding these proposals have to do with increased noise, traffic and crime to go along with decreased property values.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said that she cannot support Hard Rock’s proposal:

“The Hard Rock Casino at One Central would be dropped into an existing, well-established family community in the Prairie District of Chicago’s South Loop. Because of that, I have concerns about the density of the Hard Rock Casino proposal.”

At the community meeting, local residents expressed concern about the One Central development, which does not yet exist but is where the casino is supposed to be built. However, Hard Rock development leaders insisted that the casino project could move along even if the One Central development stagnates.

Bally’s Chicago

Many River North/River West residents opposed the Bally’s casino at the meeting, citing decreased property values, increased noise and traffic, etc.

Many Chicagoans support a casino in the city but would prefer it not to be built in their neighborhood.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, falls in that bucket. He said:

“Gives equal weight and consideration to the concerns expressed by River North, River West and Fulton River District residents as she will to those expressed by the residents of the 3rd and 25th wards. I support the City’s efforts to site a casino in Chicago — our public safety pension systems are counting on it.”

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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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