Chicago City Council likely to approve new casino plan in River West

May 24, 2022

On Monday, a City Council committee advanced Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plan to build a casino in Chicago's River West. The legislation, which lays the groundwork for the project, now goes to a final vote this week, where it could be approved.

Despite some concerns about the project's fast pace, the committee voted 27-3 to send the legislation to the City Council, where it's expected to be approved on Wednesday. The proposed casino would be built on land currently occupied by the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center printing plant.

In May, Mayor Lightfoot selected the proposed River West casino site, which is located in the city's River West neighborhood. The project, which would be operated by the company known as the Bally's, must still be approved by the City Council and Illinois Gaming Board.

Opposition's argument

During Monday's committee hearing, Ald. Brendan Reilly, from the 42nd ward, questioned the amount of money that the casino would bring to the city. He also noted that the project's projected $200 million annual windfalls aren't enough.

Reilly made another statement about the project before the committee voted on the legislation, which paved the way for the casino's construction. He noted that it would create crime and congestion in the area, and he compared the proposal to the parking meter deal that the city made in 2008.

"This process that we're going through, this sprint to the finish and gymnastics we're doing today … in a way, this is actually worse than the process for the parking meter deal," said Reilly.

Brian Hopkins, another member of the committee, also voiced his concerns about the project's revenue projections.

Hopkins, who voted against the legislation, also noted that the city would be hard-pressed to make a better deal for the residents of Chicago if the casino is built. He added that the people would be stuck with the burden of making the same mistake repeatedly.

Losing revenue for missing out

However, during the committee hearing, Ald. Walter Burnett, from the 27th ward, noted that the project is needed for the area. He said that the city should take advantage of the opportunity to build a new facility.

City officials defended the process and the selection of the site, with the chief financial officer of the city, Jennie Huang Bennett, stating that the $40 million payment from the company, which was the initial step in the selection process, was needed to plug the city's budget deficit.

According to Bennett, the city loses over $300 million annually in revenue to Indiana due to the lack of a casino in Chicago. She noted that the city has to act fast to prevent this from happening.

For three years, the city has been working on selecting a site for the casino. Bennett noted that this project is an excellent opportunity for the city, as it will allow it to capitalize on its current and future economic development.

"This has been a three-year long process that the city has undertaken for the selection of the casino in the city of Chicago," Bennett said. "This is a generational opportunity, which the city has been working toward for 30 years."

The city counts on the projected $200 million in tax revenue that the casino will generate to help fund its public pension obligations. If the legislation is approved by the full council and the state gambling officials, the facility will be operational by the second quarter of 2023. The city also announced that the facility will be located in the historic Medinah Temple building.

Gus Anderson
Gus Anderson is a gambling wizard. As a kid he dreamt about becoming a Tennis, Hockey and Golf professional but ended up as a gambling professional with focus on both sports & casino.