Chicago City Council Approves Bally’s Casino Project

Posted on: December 15, 2022, 05:26h. 

Last updated on: December 15, 2022, 06:30h.

Bally’s scored a major victory Wednesday when the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly approved the company’s plans to bring a $1.7 billion casino-hotel to the site of the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center printing plant.

Bally's Chicago
A rendering of Bally’s Chicago casino. The city council there approved the plan on Wednesday. (Image: Crain’s Chicago Business)

The City Council voted 39-5 in favor of making necessary zoning alterations to pave the way for the project. In May, Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) selected Bally’s as the winning bidder to bring the first gaming venue to the Windy City.

This is a significant achievement and another critical step forward in the process of developing Bally’s Chicago,” said Bally’s Chairman Soo Kim in a statement. “We are confident that the casino will bring numerous long-term, positive economic benefits, including good-paying, union jobs, to this great city.”

Earlier this week, the Plan Commission and Committee on Zoning recommended that the City Council approve the plan. Members of the development team highlighted issues such as advanced vendor contracting, job creation, and more economic opportunities for minorities and women. The next step is the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) considering the project.

Chicago Marks Ambitious Project for Bally’s

At an estimated price tag of $1.7 billion, the Chicago integrated resort project is Bally’s most ambitious to date. Assuming costs are contained to $1.7 billion, that’s still well above the operator’s market capitalization of $1.03 billion, as of the close of US markets today.

The Rhode Island-based gaming company is taking steps to defray some of its financial exposure in Chicago. Last month, it announced the sale of the 30-acre Tribune Publishing Center site for $200 million and the buyer will also fund up to an additional $300 million in development costs for the first gaming venue in the third-largest US city.

Under the terms of that transaction, Bally’s has an option to repurchase the land during the fourth through eighth years of the lease.

“Among other features and amenities, Bally’s Chicago will include 3,400 slots, 170 table games, 10 food and beverage venues, a 500-room hotel tower with rooftop bar, a 3,000 seat / 65,000 square foot entertainment center, a 20,000 square foot exhibition, outdoor music venue, and outdoor green space including an expansive public riverwalk with a water taxi stop,” according to the statement.

Bally’s also has rights to run a temporary casino for up to three years in the River North neighborhood while the main project is under construction. The temporary casino will be housed at Medinah Temple — a plan that’s drawn scrutiny among lawmakers representing that area, who claim the temporary casino will worsen traffic and do nothing to alleviate high crime.

Bally’s Casino Could Help Illinois

Some aldermen praised Lightfoot, noting Chicago mayors have been attempting to bring a casino to the city for more than three decades. Bally’s gaming project is forecast to generate $200 million in annual receipts, which could be used to help shore up Chicago’s crippled public pension system.

Due in part to bloated public pension obligations, Illinois finances are weak compared to other states. For example, Gov. J.B. Pritzker — also a Democrat — has raised gas taxes six times since starting his first term in January 2019.

A new report from the Illinois General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability indicates the state’s pension debt stands at $139.7 billion, up $9.8 billion from 2021.

So bad are Illinois’ finances that the state was the only one to borrow capital from the Federal Reserve’s lending facility during the days of the coronavirus pandemic. The state has since repaid that $2 billion tab.