chicago politics

Bally's River West Wins Chicago Casino Bid. Here's What We Know and What Happens Next

NBC Universal, Inc.

After months of proposals, public comment, and strong opposition from some neighborhood groups, Chicago has selected the winner of its casino bidding war.

According to a press release from Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office, Bally's Corporation will receive the city's sole casino license. The casino will be located on the site of the Tribune Publishing Center in River West.

Bally's beat out two other bids, one from Hard Rock to build a casino just west of Soldier Field, and one from Rivers, which would have built a casino in the South Loop.

"Following significant analyses and community input on all aspects of our three finalists for Chicago's casino license, the selection committee and I have chosen Bally's to move forward in the development of the City's first integrated casino resort," Lightfoot said in a press release.

"We are confident that Bally's Tribune Publishing Center development will shore up the City's pension funds, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and lead to a bright financial future for our city."

The city estimates a casino will bring in $200 million a year in tax revenue -- money that is earmarked for police and fire pensions, according to officials -- but all proposed developments drew both support and strong opposition from some residents and elected officials throughout the process.

Here's what we know about the new Bally's Casino coming to River West, and what happens next.

Bally's Casino in River West

Bally’s $1.74 billion casino project and hotel will be located on a portion of the site of the current industrial Tribune Publishing Center at Tribune Publishing Plant in the River West neighborhood.

The proposal includes:

  • A 3,000 seat theater
  • An extension of the Riverwalk and pedestrian bridge
  • A 500-room hotel tower
  • An Outdoor park and music venue
  • A fitness center, sun deck and pool spa
  • Six restaurants and a food hall
  • 3,400 slots
  • 170 game tables
  • 2,000 permanent jobs

According to the press release, Bally's will open a temporary casino at Medinah Temple, located at 600 N Wabash Ave. would open first, until the Tribune site can be redeveloped into a permanent spot.

According to reports, Bally's is reportedly close to a labor deal with the Chicago Federation of Labor that would require the entire complex to use union workers.

What Some in the Neighborhood are Saying

Several officials, including Ald. Brian Hopkins, say that the Bally’s project has been the frontrunner all along, and they are expressing concerns about the process that led to the decision.

“[Mayor Lori Lightfoot] said she’s made no decision, (but) she’s going to come out tomorrow and not explain the justification for it,” Hopkins told NBC 5 Wednesday, before the announcement was made. “I’m calling foul on this right now.”

Hopkins’ ward is located just to the north of the site, which is situated along the Chicago River on a plot of land formerly used as a publishing plant for the Chicago Tribune.

Ald. Walter Burnett of the 27th ward said in a press release that he supports the project.

“It will be a world class entertainment destination that provides jobs, boost tourism numbers and brings a host of incredible amenities into the 27th ward. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city of Chicago and it will be a premier destination for generations to come."

Area residents have expressed skepticism about the viability of the site, and homeowners’ associations have pushed back against the plan.

“I think it’s a little odd of a location, because there’s not much public transit around here,” one resident said.

The neighboring River North Residents’ Association is overwhelmingly opposed to a casino deal. According to a survey, more than 85% of of people there said they'd rather not have a casino there.

“I think Chicago is one of the great American cities, and I think we can do better than this,” Brian Israel, who represents the association, said.

What Happens Next?

According to the mayor's office, "a comprehensive host community agreement memorializing the agreed upon terms will be negotiated."

That agreement will then be evaluated by an Alderman special committee

All of the City Council will be involved in the process for the final recommendation, and the formal development process will begin following approval from the City Council and the Illinois Gaming Board.

The public can weigh in on May 12, on the selected proposal at a community engagement event at UIC Forum, at 725 W Roosevelt Rd. from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Registration for the event begins May 5 at 11 a.m.

Which Other Casinos Submitted Bids?

Hard Rock (ONE Central Site), West of Soldier Field – Hard Rock proposed a $1.74 billion casino resort just to the north of McCormick Place on Chicago’s lakefront.

The proposal included a 3,500-seat live music venue, a 500-room hotel tower, restaurants, six different bars and lounges, and more than 3,000 slot machines and 166 gaming tables.

Rivers (78), South Loop, including Chinatown and Pilsen – Rivers 78 proposed a $1.62 billion casino project on the site known as “The 78,” a large development on Chicago’s South Side. The proposal included a riverfront area, an observation tower, a riverfront venue for live entertainment, a 300-room hotel tower, eight different restaurants, more than 2,600 slot machines and 190 table games.

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