Chicago took a giant step toward becoming the largest city in North America with a full casino-resort after the Chicago City Council on Wednesday (May 25) overwhelmingly approved Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s recommendation of Bally’s Corporation to develop a $1.7bn project in the Windy City.
The 41-7 vote came after a 90-minute debate, which included a heated exchange of insults between Lightfoot and Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who opposes the casino.
“You are a liar!” Lightfoot shouted at Sigcho-Lopez after he said the mayor’s administration is more worried about political campaign contributions “than doing the right thing for Chicago.”
Lightfoot, who is expected to seek re-election in February 2023 but still has not made an official declaration, has not been shy about using good old-fashioned Chicago political muscle to expedite the approval process for the casino.
The city council’s vote came just two days after the mayor’s special casino committee voted 27-3 to advance Bally’s casino proposal.
“Today’s city council vote on the casino is tremendous news!” Lightfoot said on Twitter.
“Bally’s Chicago will provide thousands of permanent jobs, generate needed revenue, while supporting people and neighborhoods that have been neglected for too long. We finally did it, Chicago!”
As significant as the city council’s vote is, the casino project still must be reviewed and approved by the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB), the state’s chief regulatory agency for the gaming industry.
“The IGB is prepared to process and evaluate the Chicago casino application (once submitted) in an ethical, efficient, independent, thorough, timely and transparent manner that satisfies the IGB’s significant statutory obligations and maintains public trust and confidence in Illinois gaming,” Joe Miller, the director of policy at the IGB, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email.
Miller said the IGB’s review of the proposal for the Chicago casino will follow the same guidelines used for “for the 13 other applications it received since July 2019 for new casino licenses in Danville, Waukegan, Rockford, the South Suburbs (of Chicago), Williamson County, Hawthorne Race Course and Fairmount Park.”
A temporary version of the Chicago casino could open its doors as early as next year and the facility is expected to be completed by early 2026.
“The favorable vote shows that Bally’s is willing to work with the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois to achieve the original intent of gaming in Illinois, that being economic development, meaningful job creation and new revenue streams,” said Tom Thanas, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association.
Bally’s has committed to make a $40m upfront payment to the city of Chicago to support police and fire department pension funds, as well as other financial, contracting and hiring commitments.
Tenille Jackson, executive director of the National Association of Promotional Retailers, said the Chicago casino will be “a game-changer for our city in a time we need it most.”
“I am excited and optimistic about the fair and equitable opportunities Black and Brown communities will benefit from for generations to come,” Jackson said.
“We have a unique opportunity to change the trajectory of our small business communities and young people seeking new career opportunities.”
Bally’s has announced 60 percent of the employees at the Chicago casino will represent minorities.
“Today’s vote indicates the tremendous support for what will be a world-class facility and is indicative of the commitment to creating diversity in gaming,” said Cory Aronovitz, a founder of the Casino Law Group in Chicago.