Bally's Chicago casino garners scrutiny following 'rush' for approval

May 11, 2022

The construction of the first casino in the City of Chicago is only waiting for approval by its city council, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot expecting a vote in the committee before May ends. However, a few aldermen are pushing against the plan, saying they only received the ordinance from the mayor's office on Tuesday.

The city previously held a second Special Committee meeting to discuss the planned casino on Monday, during which several aldermen questioned and scrutinized the city's rush to approve the project.

"The last time we were given less than two weeks to vet and approve a deal, it blew up in our faces and it was called the parking meter deal," said 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly.

"Union Gaming was contracted to provide projections for us; financial analysis. Who checked their homework?" Reilly asked the council.

"Ultimately, Union Gaming Analytics β€” which provides us our revenue forecasts β€” have done work with all three bidders in the past," said Jennie Bennett, the city's chief financial officer. "It's a very small niche market."

"What is the deadline here and why the rush, on this very significant project?" 43rd ward Ald. Michele Smith asked Bennett.

"The faster we get to this, the faster we can get to the revenues," Bennett answered.

Temporary casino and Bally's future plans

The city aims to start operating a casino at a temporary location before the actual venue is constructed. The temporary casino will start operating next year as the city intends to use the funds from national gaming and betting giant Bally's as soon as possible.

The temporary venue will be located at the Medinah Temple at 600 N. Wabash Ave. in River North. The building was built in 1912 by the Shriners fraternal organization and was used as an auditorium and circus venue. The place is currently empty.

"It's tough to be a retailer in cities because of so many trends and pandemic made it difficult," said Samir Mayekar, Chicago Deputy Mayor. "Vacancy begets vacancy, and we must activate the Medinah Temple."

The revenue from the temporary casinos is set to fund the city's financial needs, including police and fire pensions.

"This is a great deal for the city, I think it would be irresponsible for us as a city council to allow for this cash cow not to happen in city at this happen," said Alderman Walter Burnett.

Bally's won the bid to operate a casino in Chicago after agreeing to pay the city $40 million upfront. It has also committed to hiring a certain quota of minorities as well as women under the agreement.

"It's exciting for us, but we also understand how deep our responsibility it is," said Soo Kim, Bally's board chairman. "There's a lot of promises for us to keep and we intend to keep them."

The permanent venue of the casino will be located at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center publishing plant. The building will be near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street in River West. Construction is expected to start in 2026 at the latest.

Jake Williams
Jake Williams is a sports gambling expert. He's been writing in the sports betting and DFS industry for over a decade. He specializes in MLB and NBA, along with College Basketball and College Football.