Mayor Lightfoot to announce final selection for Chicago casino Thursday morning

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot will announce the winning proposal for a Chicago casino on Thursday morning.

The announcement is coming at 9:45 a.m. Thursday. The mayor is not making the announcement at any of the proposed casino sites; she will make it at the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council in River North.

Earlier, City Hall sources have confirmed that leaders of Bally’s, one of three companies in the running for a Chicago casino, had arrived in Chicago.

City Hall sources told CBS 2’s Brad Edwards that while Bally’s may get the nod as the mayor’s final choice for the city’s first casino, nothing is a done deal.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office would not confirm published reports Wednesday that Lightfoot is expected to announce Bally’s as her casino choice.

“The evaluation process continues, and we expect to make an announcement soon,” a Lightfoot spokesperson said in an email.  

Bally’s was the only casino finalist to offer an upfront payment to the city as part of their bid, a $25 million payment to the city.

Rendering of Bally’s Corporations’ proposed casino at the Chicago Tribune publishing center. (Source: City of Chicago)

Bally’s proposal would call for a $1.74 billion casino at the 30-acre Chicago Tribune Freedom Center publishing plant along the Chicago River near Halsted and Ohio streets.

The site would include 3,400 slot machines and 173 table games; a 500-room hotel; six restaurants and cafés, as well as a food hall; three bars and lounges; a 3,000-seat, 70,000-square-foot riverwalk entertainment venue; 20,000 square feet of exhibition space; a sports museum; and an outdoor/rooftop space with bars, lounges, and pools.

Bally’s also would seek to place slot machines at both O’Hare and Midway airports.

The Chicago Tribune prints its newspapers – and some competitors’ newspapers – at the Freedom Center, but its lease at the site runs out in June 2023, with an option to renew for 10 years, but Bally’s also holds an option to purchase the site.

The Bally’s bid for this site includes a temporary facility adjacent to the Freedom Center by retrofitting an existing building.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes the Freedom Center site, has said he would support the Bally’s casino proposal in his ward because the only alternative for the city to get the $200 million in annual revenue it is counting on to shore up its underfunded employee pension systems is a property tax hike.

However, two neighboring aldermen – Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Brian Hopkins (2nd) – have said their constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to a casino in the area.

Many residents in River West have pushed back against a casino in the neighborhood, raising concerns of traffic congestion, noise, and crime.

“We are not confident that Bally’s has the experience and the expertise to carry this off,” said Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association.

As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported Wednesday night, Israel doesn’t just question the capital Bally’s has to complete the deal. He believes the entire process hasn’t been forthcoming as originally presented.

“We’re also concerned about the fact that the City Council seems to have been cut out of the process or not fully engaged with many important decisions along this path,” Israel said. “We think the executive and legislative branch should be working together on this, and it shouldn’t be just a fiat from the Mayor’s office.”

For her part, Mayor Lightfoot said this week, “We’ve tried to be as transparent as we possible could be with a number of rounds of engagement, winnowing he field to three finalists.”

The other two finalists for the city’s first casino were a proposal for a Rivers Casino in the 78 development in the South Loop, and a Hard Rock casino at the proposed One Central development near Soldier Field.

Aldermen in those wards also have said they are opposed to those casino proposals.

Whichever finalist is chosen by the mayor must be approved by a special City Council committee formed to review the mayor’s selection, and then by the full City Council, before the city’s choice for a casino goes to the Illinois Gaming Board for approval of its license.

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