According to some, Bally’s Chicago temporary casino in River North is blatantly targeting certain communities with its hourly shuttle services.
The gambling operator’s two shuttles operate out of Chinatown.
Bally’s Chicago attempted to drum up added attendance as numbers slipped since its launch in September. In turn, it wanted to offer a shuttle for customers who didn’t want or weren’t able to drive or take another means of transportation.
And while patrons have used the shuttle service, it’s received plenty of backlash.
Why many believe Bally’s shuttle service is targeting certain groups
The Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) held multiple meetings back in 2019 to discuss the possibility of how casinos could affect those in Chinatown.
During the first meeting, CBCAC founder C.W. Chan explained that Chinese communities have higher rates of problem gaming. That issue is even worse in areas with lower-income residents, he told WBEZ.
“We understand that the state needs money; the state had to make a decision,” he said in 2019. “We’re not trying to stop the casino, but we’re trying to (discuss) how it’s going to impact our community.”
At that same meeting in 2019, Chan brought forth an example from more than two decades ago. Back in the day, there was a group of casinos that “targeted Chinatown with the buses at every single corner, seven days a week, almost 24 hours a day.”
The current Bally’s shuttle service does, in fact, operate hourly every day of the week.
Chan also noted that there came an uptick in crime in that example from a couple of decades ago. Robberies took place at bus stops as casino patrons exited with their winnings.
One leader: Gambling ‘targets’ immigrant communities
Chinatown’s Pui Tak Center executive director David Wu told Block Club Chicago that he attended a number of community meetings prior to the opening of the Bally’s Chicago casino.
“Gambling is a legal activity, but it targets (immigrant) communities with low income,” he said.
In an interview with Block Club Chicago last week, Rep. Theresa Mah said she had no idea about the shuttle services available in Chinatown and is not on board.
Last year, Mah – whose Illinois House district oversees Chinatown – voiced her opposition to the Rivers 78 Casino proposal. That hypothetical casino would have been located in Chinatown.
“I don’t think that (Bally’s) should be trying to make up for their shortfalls by targeting vulnerable communities,” she said.
Other leaders claim they had no idea about the Bally’s shuttle service
According to Block Club Chicago, local officials were not aware of the shuttle service. It’s worth noting, however, that the bus schedule is available on Bally’s website.
Ald. Nicole Lee told Block Club Chicago that she heard of the shuttle service mid-December – more than a month after it started. Lee noted that she wants a meeting between Bally’s and other community leaders, since she says communication has slipped through the cracks.
Grace Chan McKibben, Coalition for a Better Chinese Community’s executive director, expressed a similar sentiment to Block Club Chicago. She noted that after doing some digging of her own, Chinatown residents actually requested the service, saying parking remained difficult at the Bally’s facility. But just like Lee, Chan McKibben was not aware of the buses before her investigation and believes that even with the customer requests, it’s not for the best.
“Folks that don’t have a lot of resources think they can win one game of chance … and they usually don’t,” she said.
It’s worth noting that Bally’s leaders said they would not be working with any shuttle services before the casino opened. In fact, the group even eliminated valet services at the location in an attempt to help the flow of traffic.
Bally’s doesn’t have any plans to stop its shuttle service any time soon
Bally’s Chicago Vice President and General Manager Mark Wong explained in a statement that so far, he’s received positive feedback on the bus service.
According to him, the shuttle wasn’t designed to target specific communities but rather to solve the issue of casino access. And after taking in feedback, it appears as though the service isn’t going to slow down.
“Bally’s Shuttle is available to our customers and employees, creating better access to the casino,” Wong said in a statement. “We are receiving positive feedback from our customers and the community and plan on expanding additional routes to the north and west of the city due to demand.”
Located at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Avenue, the Bally’s Chicago features roughly 800 slot machines. Customers have 56 gaming tables at their disposal, along with a pair of restaurants and a coffee shop.
Additionally, Bally’s does have onsite responsible gambling services. There is written material at the temporary casino about the issue.
Bally’s license and continued presence in Illinois is vital for the company, because of and when online casinos in Illinois become legal, it will have an inside track to an online casino license — which, with Chicago’s population of potential customers looming, would be extremely lucrative.