Chicago mayor requests $75 million for casino expansion

April 28, 2022

As a decision on a potential casino in Chicago looms, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has made one thing clear. She decided to raise the stakes and requested $75 million from the winner.

The plans to build the casino are not new. The 56th mayor of Chicago had long planned it in hopes of generating more city tax revenue. The amount is predicted to be around $200 million per year. With this fund, the city will relieve taxpayers of the police and fire department public pension obligations.

Casino plans

Following the dropping of two names in March, three have remained and made it onto the final rounds. The three finalists are Hard Rock, Bally’s, and Rush Street Gaming.

Hard Rock is eyeing the One Central development on the Near South Side. Rush Street Gaming, with its Rivers brand, is targeting The 78 in the South Loop. Finally, Bally’s proposing the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center in River West.

The $75 million amount requested is most likely the last hurdle for these competitors. The mayor announced an alternative, that is, a commitment of an upfront payment of $40 million and $2 million a year later. Previously, Bally’s had offered to pay $25 million if it got selected as the final bidder.

A new committee called the "Special Committee on the Chicago Casino" was created in March to help with the matters. The chairman, Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th, said that the city is planning to submit the final choice to the Illinois Gaming Board in the near future. It hopes to have things settled, including the $40 million, before the next fiscal budget this fall.

"We would like to be able to, hopefully, within the next month, get narrowed down to one and then obviously go through this process with the nominee," Tunney said.

Community’s concerns

The residents’ dissatisfaction and concerns regarding the plans were overwhelming. The aldermen voiced their apprehension at the community engagement meetings earlier this April. The concerns mainly come from the neighborhoods that are directly affected by the construction.

Among many others, they outlined issues about crime, safety, traffic, and noise. They also pointed out the alarming misuse of the Chicago River as stated in two proposals.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, stated his opposition to the Bally’s Tribune proposal. He brought up an April report from the River North Residents Association that revealed 86% of nearly 2,000 respondents disapproved of the casino.

"Perhaps if the city had engaged with the aldermen on potential sites and helped gear that conversation and guide it with the potential developers and operators, that might have produced less acrimony and more upfront consensus on how best to locate this casino," Reilly said during the three-hour meeting on Monday.

Hard Rock’s proposal also received backlash. Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, said that "there is very little support" from residents in her ward. Rush Street Gaming, with its Rivers at the 78 plan, faced disagreement in almost all aspects. As Ald. Nicole Lee cited, the adjacent Chinatown community was raising numerous debates about crime and gambling addiction.

The Chicago Federation of Labor was also present at the meeting. President Bob Reiter said that his team has urged labor peace agreements to be one of the main prerequisites for approval.

Both the CEOs of Rush Street Gaming and Bally’s have responded to this, while Hard Rock has declined to comment.

"We have every intention of entering into a labor peace agreement for the Chicago casino," Rush Street Gaming’s CEO, Tim Drehkoff, said. "As Chicagoans ourselves, we know this is a union town and this will be a union casino."

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.