New Chicago Mayor Could Bring VGTs To The City

Written By Darren Cooper on April 6, 2023
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson won the run-off as new mayor of Chicago and the big winners might be proponents of legalized video gambling terminals in the city limits.

However, that stance may run counter to the Illinois casino deal the city brokered with Bally’s by former mayor Lori Lightfoot. Bally’s intends to build a sprawling new casino in the city’s River West neighborhood.

Chicago has an ordinance – loosely enforced – banning VGTs in bars and restaurants within city limits. Establishment owners have instead installed ‘sweepstakes machines’ which work a lot like video gambling machines in their locations.

One of the perks for a major casino company coming into the Chicago market is the fact that it would be the sole major provider for gambling within the city.

Where does Johnson stand on gambling?

Gambling was not a widely discussed issue before the two-man run-off between Johnson, a 46-year-old former Cook County Commissioner, and Paul Vallas, who had the support of the police union.

But the topic did come up during a March debate.

Vallas stated his support for video poker, saying he would use “casino money, video poker money on funding investments on the South and West Sides” according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times.

While not addressing the topic directly at the debate, the Johnson campaign later put out a statement saying their candidate was “a supporter of legalized video gambling as an important revenue source for critical investments in public safety, transportation, housing and other public accommodations.”

Outgoing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had been a big supporter of the Bally’s Chicago project, touting the employment opportunities for Chicago residents and saying the casino would help fund the city’s weak pension program.

A look at the numbers

A report filed by the Illinois Governance Forecasting and Accountability office stated that opening Chicago for video gaming would have a huge impact on revenue.

As of February, there were more than 45,100 VGTs across 8,200 venues in the state. This is according to the Illinois Gaming Board. It’s not clear if that survey is also counting ‘sweepstakes machines.’

As of Thursday morning, Johnson had 51.4% of the votes with 92% of the precincts reporting in. Vallas had conceded.

Lightfoot came in a disappointing third during the nine-candidate first round in February.

Johnson is a former teacher and union organizer. He touted himself as a new age progressive. In his victory speech, he touched on the key issues during the campaign saying he could create a safer Chicago.

“A city that’s safer for everyone by investing in what actually works to prevent crime,” said Johnson according to “And that means youth employment, mental health centers, ensuring that law enforcement has the resources to solve and prevent crimes.”

The latest on Bally’s

Hailed as its signature facility in America, Bally’s Chicago is set to open a $1.7 billion casino/resort by 2026. It will feature 3,400 slot machines, 173 table games and a 3,000-seat entertainment venue.

Bally’s temporary casino at Medinah Temple in River North is slated to open this summer.

A Bally’s spokesman did not comment on Johnson’s election, according to the Sun-Times.

Barring any unforeseen changes, Johnson will serve a four-year term through 2027. If Bally’s Chicago remains on track, he will be the mayor when the facility opens.

Photo by Paul Beaty / AP
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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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