Lightfoot pushing for Friday vote on casino ordinance and host agreement with Bally’s authorizing River West casino

Lightfoot pushing for Friday vote on casino ordinance and host agreement with Bally’s authorizing River West casino

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting in March.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting in March.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is pushing for a Friday vote — on an ordinance authorizing a Chicago casino and a host agreement with Bally’s — in an apparent rush to secure a $40 million upfront payment for her pre-election budget.

The City Council committee created to purportedly deal with “all matters” pertaining to a Chicago casino was not asked to weigh in before Lightfoot put her chips on Bally’s $1.7 billion River West bid for a Chicago casino at the Chicago and Halsted site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant.

But the committee stacked with Lightfoot’s handpicked committee chairs will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday to consider two ordinances: one authorizing a Chicago casino in River West; the other codifying the “host agreement” with Bally’s that includes the labor peace agreement and all of the other financial, contracting and hiring commitments the company has made.

Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th), who doubles as the casino committee chairman, said he is not at all certain that the votes are there to approve the companion agreements.

Tunney noted that the 75-page “host agreement” was just emailed to alderpersons this week and he hasn’t even gotten finished reading it, let alone formulating his own memorandum of questions to the administration.

What that means for Friday’s vote is anybody’s guess, Tunney said.

“I’m going to get the temperature of my committee. I’m not saying we’re ready to vote…Honestly, I don’t know. A lot of questions are still to be answered,” Tunney told the Sun-Times.

“We have local opposition for the temporary site. Residents of River North — there was a lot of concern about safety and congestion in the neighborhood of River North. They did not bargain for this one. There’s gonna be a lot of convincing to do with our committee members…I’m gonna work hard trying to make sure that people feel comfortable if they’re in support of it and those that are not feel” heard.

Bally’s could not be reached for comment.

Downtown Alderpersons Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) are trying to convince their colleagues to reject Bally’s River West bid on grounds that it will create an impossible bottleneck in an already congested area; Bally’s has never built a casino from the ground up; and that Lightfoot went around the City Council committee she created to give herself “political cover” for a decision she had already made.

Hopkins said he isn’t surprised the mayor is trying to rush the vote. “This process has been so flawed” that Lightfoot probably just wants it done, he said. But he said he’s unsure if the committee will endorse Bally’s on Friday. “It could go either way, but there has been a lot of arm-twisting, particularly from the unions,” Hopkins said.

The Chicago Federation of Labor has been a strong backer of Bally’s, which has agreed to have a unionized workforce. Robert Reiter Jr., president of the CFL, has said unionized workers at the casino will be assured a “living wage.”

Reilly has argued that Lightfoot’s 11th-hour “switcheroo” to the landmark Medinah Temple as the site for Bally’s temporary casino, to be used while the permanent attraction is built, will make an alarming spike in River North crime infinitely worse.

He is dead-set against the idea of turning Medinah into a temporary gambling den that could last at least until early 2026, let alone exempting Medinah from the local liquor moratorium.

Tunney conceded that there are “more problems with the temporary site right now” than with the permanent casino site in River West.

“Up until two weeks ago, the temporary site was the [Chicago Tribune] production facility…This was, in my opinion, a late switch. Even though Medinah had been proposed as one of the temporary sites, it was never Bally’s site,” the chairman said.

“Even though Medinah is empty, it’s in the middle of a very congested area. They’re saying that there’s plenty of parking around the Medinah Temple because Medinah itself doesn’t have any parking. But parking was there before Medinah. So the question, in my opinion, is what’s the utilization rate right now? There’s a liquor moratorium. So the ordinance is going to exempt the casino from local liquor moratoriums. That’s a problem.”

“So there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Tunney said. “I don’t know if we can get it done by Friday. But that’s their goal.”

He added, “On top of all that, there’s all sorts of questions from committee members about the firmness of their commitment to hiring, equity. Those are very important questions to a lot of our committee members.”

Tunney was asked why the Lightfoot administration would even be pushing for a vote after just one subject matter hearing on the Bally’s proposal and one community meeting last week.

“You have to ask the administration what the rush is. But what I’m hearing is, first of all, it has to go back to the Illinois Gaming Board. And that’s gonna take two-to-three months. It [also] has to go back to [the Department of] Planning and Development. Obviously, they’re trying to get this in order” in time to include the $40 million up-front payment in the 2023 budget, the chairman said.

“…We might need more time. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

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