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City Council endorses Bally's $1.7 billion Chicago casino plan

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The Chicago City Council overwhelmingly agreed Wednesday to support a plan by Rhode Island-based Bally's Corp. to construct and operate a $1.7 billion casino, hotel and entertainment facility northwest of the Loop, near the southern tip of Goose Island.

The Democratic-controlled council voted 41-7 to endorse Mayor Lori Lightfoot's recommendation for the Bally's casino project and to forward it to the Illinois Gaming Board for final approval.

There's no timeline for the state board to act on the city's casino plan. Though its financial analysis and executive background checks are likely to move more swiftly than other new casino projects because Bally's already operates an Illinois casino in Rock Island.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces that she's selected Bally's to construct a casino, hotel and entertainment facility in Chicago

Council debate centered primarily on the speed with which Lightfoot selected Bally's for the city's sole casino license and the limited time made available to the council's casino committee to review the finer points of the deal.

The rush reportedly is due to Lightfoot's eagerness to secure a $40 million upfront payment pledged by Bally's to cover police and fire pension expenses prior to the adoption of the city's next annual budget.

Critics of the measure said rushing into a casino deal has the same potential pitfalls as the 2008 lease of the city's parking meters that's earned billions of dollars for private investors, and will continue to do so through 2083, with precious little gained by the city.

"The world doesn't blow up tomorrow if we take more time with this," said 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly.

Foes also questioned the relative remoteness of the permanent casino site at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, the overabundance of traffic and lack of parking at the Medinah Temple temporary casino site, and the potential for increased crime and mayhem associated with 24-hour operations at the casino.

Supporters of the plan pointed to the thousands of union jobs set to be created by the project, the gaming and nongaming amenities the casino will bring to the city, the additional revenue for public pensions and the city's bottom line, and Bally's commitments to hire local workers and contractors.

Alderman Thomas Tunney of the 44th Ward also said a Chicago casino will slow or stop the nearly three decade trend of city residents spending their money at Northwest Indiana casinos, and instead keep those funds in Chicago where he said they belong.

Bally's was selected by the mayor following an extensive review process, community meetings and negotiations among all the bidders, including Hard Rock Chicago and Rivers 78.

Tunney said additional community meetings will be scheduled in the weeks and months ahead to further prepare residents of River West and other nearby neighborhoods for the casino project.

The Bally's plan calls for a casino with space for 3,400 slot machines and 170 table games. That's slightly fewer gaming positions than the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond had at its peak about a decade ago.

For comparison, Horseshoe currently offers guests 1,853 slots and 119 tables, the Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana in Gary similarly features 1,612 slots and 79 tables, Ameristar Casino East Chicago has 1,266 slots and 45 tables, and the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City is at 1,428 slots and 30 tables.

Bally's also plans to build at its site adjacent to the Chicago River a 500-room hotel tower, a 3,000-seat theater, an outdoor park and music venue, a Riverwalk extension, six restaurants, a cafe and food hall, and other amenities.

Police are met with a myriad of tense situations and unpredictable occurrences that are seemingly impossible to prepare for, however, Hammond police Sgt. Aubrey Thomas does just that.

Backers also noted Bally's has no other casinos in the Chicagoland market, unlike Hard Rock in Gary and Rivers in Des Plaines, Illinois — ensuring Bally's will be focused entirely on its Chicago property.

Bally's plans currently call for its Chicago casino to debut in early 2026.

It expects to open a temporary casino with up to 800 slot machines and table game seats by mid-2023 at the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Bally's is an old name in gaming recently acquired by a new company. Until 2020, Bally's was known as Twin River Worldwide Holdings and its 15 casinos in 14 states, including the former Tropicana Casino in Evansville, Indiana, and the former Jumer's Casino in Rock Island, Illinois, mainly were acquired through purchases, not new construction.

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