Chicago City Mayor is reported to be seeking $75 million from the winner selected from the three finalists, or a commitment to pay $40 million up front and $2 million a year later.
Earlier this month, Hard Rock, Bally’s and Rush Street Gaming pitched the final three proposals in three separate public hearings. Bally’s, which had already offered the city $25 million up front if it’s selected, is targeting the Tribune Publishing Center in River West. Rush Street is eyeing putting one of its Rivers-branded casinos at The 78 in the South Loop, while Hard Rock is looking at the proposed One Central development on the Near South Side.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposal to charge the winner with up to $75 million in upfront cash was reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, citing unidentified sources close to the matter. This would be the latest hurdle to overcome in the city’s yearslong plans for a casino Lightfoot says could generate city tax revenue of $200 million annually and relieve taxpayers from big police and fire pension obligations.
The three neighborhoods in consideration include the South Loop —which includes Chinatown and Pilsen—, the area just west of Soldier Field, and River North. Aldermen and residents in wards in or near the finalists’ sites have come out against a casino development in their back yards, and some officials have wondered whether they could revive the two rejected McCormick Place proposals.
Alderman Tom Tunney, of the 44th Ward and chairman of the Chicago Casino Committee, is aiming for the final selection within the next month, and to seek approval from the Illinois Gaming Board by the fall, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward, which includes River North, objects to the Bally’s Tribune proposal adjacent to his ward, which includes River North. He cited an April survey by the River North Residents Association that found 86 percent of almost 2,000 respondents were opposed to the casino, according to the Tribune.
Reilly has also taken issue with news that the city only charged one $300,000 application fee to the Bally’s ownership group for both its proposals, including the dismissed one near the McCormick Place campus, while charging two distinct fees for the Rush Gaming Rivers proposals, one at each of the sites it eyed.
Lightfoot’s administration said the application fees were handled differently because Bally’s ownership group for each of its casino sites would have been the same, while the Rivers brand was going to be used by separate owners for the casino components at The 78 development by Related Midwest and the tossed McCormick Place proposal by another owner.
Bally’s CEO Soo Kim said he plans to eliminate an option within the casino contract to buy out minority investors; the city has required at least 25 percent minority investment in the casino. Bally’s is a few weeks away from releasing its revised minority investment program, which has $200 million in commitments from more than 200 investors, the Tribune reported.
On Sunday, protestors spoke out against the proposed Rivers 78 casino in the South Loop, arguing it would lead to more traffic and more gambling addition, NBC Chicago reports. They also cited an assessment they say shows the majority of residents do not support a casino. The head of a Chinatown health organization says polling shows most residents don’t want a huge casino near their neighborhood.
Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez, whose 25th Ward includes Chinatown and the West Loop, is also against the casino’s development. “We understand that there’s a casino that was approved by the state, approved by the city, but where this happens needs to always be in consultation with the residents,” he said.
State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, is opposed to a casino near Chinatown. “They provide food and drink and all kinds of amenities so that they don’t leave,” she said. “Normally those tourists would be having lunch and dinner in Chinatown.”
Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended the project and said she won’t let that local opposition stand in the way of a Chicago casino needed to pay police and fire pension debt to prevent a major property tax hike. She says the projected tax revenue is between $175-195 million depending on the location. Lightfoot is pushing for a final decision in May or June.