Report: Lightfoot expected to choose this developer for Chicago casino — here's where it'd be located

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is about to name her choice of a site and a developer for a big Chicago casino, according to a report.

The Sun-Times says the mayor is expected to give the nod to Bally's to build near Chicago and Halsted — currently the site of the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center.

It's been apparent since at least March that Mayor Lightfoot favors the Bally's site, not least because the company's promising to make an upfront payment to the city and is the only one of three proposed developers willing to commit now to union representation of its future employees.


FOX 32 Political Editor Mike Flannery recently asked the chairman of the City Council's special casino committee if Bally's has always had the "in."

"I don't wanna be – show my cards so to speak. I don't believe at this point there is a front-runner. There's so many different variables that each presenter has, and, location, location, location," said 44th ward Alderman Tom Tunney, the chairman of the City Council’s special casino committee.

A City Council member whose ward borders the Bally's site says he spent last weekend reading a voluminous number of objections to that as a casino site.

"81 pages of opposition statements, all kinds of reasons that people have communicated to us through their neighborhood associations. It's a very strong tidal wave of opposition from local residents to the site at Chicago and Halsted," 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins said.

The three finalists vying for Chicago’s only casino license propose to offer between 2,600 and 3,400 slot machines and about 170 table games.

Each also promises live entertainment venues, a new hotel, and up to eight restaurants — and some local chef entrepreneurs want a piece of that pie.

Sam Toia, of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said his group wants to know, "how can (the new casino) make this profitable also for some of our restaurants? Like in Chatham, or in Jefferson park or in Little Village?"

Toia said he hopes such local restaurants will have a presence in whatever gambling complex is eventually built.

Each of the three finalists promise to spend more than $1.5 billion.

Hard Rock promises to generate the most jobs — 16,600 during construction and then 3,140 permanent jobs at a site just west of DuSable Lake Shore Drive near Soldier Field.

A proposed Rivers Casino near the Chicago River and Roosevelt Road promises about 4,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs.

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Bally's Corporation would build near the Chicago Tribune printing plant at Chicago Avenue and the Chicago River, promising to hire 9,700 workers during construction and 2,000 permanently.

Downtown casinos in some other Midwestern cities have notably failed to generate customers for other businesses nearby. Supporters here say Chicago’s gambling complex will be more ambitious than, say, downtown Cleveland’s defunct department store converted to a casino.

"There's been debate that it really doesn't bring customers," said Toia. "I do believe it will."

In a statement, Lightfoot said the three remaining finalists "best fit the core goals we want to achieve for the City’s first integrated casino-resort."

Chief among those is generating cash for Chicago’s depleted police and firefighter pension funds, which are where the city’s cut of casino tax revenue will go.


The city estimates the Bally’s Tribune site would deliver $176.9 million or $191.7 million to city coffers each year, depending on how big of a hotel they’d build. Their nearly $1.8 billion plan at 777 W. Chicago Ave. calls for 2,700 slots, 95 table games, a "Second City" club and a Chicago sports museum.

The Hard Rock site would crank out an estimated $185.3 million for the city annually. Their $1.7 billion plan includes a hotel and live music venue — and could come to fruition even in the absence of more than $6 billion in state funding that developer Bob Dunn is seeking for the rest of the ambitious One Central project.

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City revenue estimates for the Rivers 78 site on the vacant land south of Roosevelt Road and west of Clark Street start at $146.5 million annually, or up to $174.2 million if developers include the massive hotel and 1,000-foot observation tower that Related Midwest president Curt Bailey has sold as "an Eiffel Tower for Chicago." The project would include about $1.7 billion in investments.

The remaining finalists have each faced some criticism from neighborhood groups citing environmental concerns, traffic headaches and studies that show crime often spikes in areas surrounding casinos.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.