Mayor Lori Lightfoot Scrutinized for Ties to Those Who May Benefit from Chicago Gambling Expansion

Posted on: June 24, 2019, 05:11h. 

Last updated on: June 24, 2019, 05:11h.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing questions about potential conflicts when it comes to gambling expansion in the Windy City given her friends, contributors and former business associates.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is being questioned about past contacts in light of a casino proposal in the city. (Image: NBC Chicago)

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that some of Lightfoot’s campaign contributors, clients at Mayer Brown — where she formerly worked as an attorney — and many friends, have ties to those who may take part in the state’s new gaming opportunities.

The issues arise as questions surface on who will operate Chicago’s first casino and where it will be located. There is also a lot of interest in planned slot machines at O’Hare International and Midway airports.

Lightfoot Could Be Influential on Gaming Initiative

Many of these decisions formally will be made by the Illinois Gaming Board. But the new mayor’s input is likely to be influential in the process.

In response, Lightfoot told the newspaper neither campaign donations nor relationships will influence her decisions.

“I’m going to play by the book,” Lightfoot was quoted.

Among the names that have surfaced with ties to Lightfoot are: casino operator Neil Bluhm, Bluhm’s family and Kentucky horse-track operator Churchill Downs, the Sun-Times reported. Bluhm’s daughter, Leslie Bluhm, is friends with Lightfoot and the two were classmates at law school.

Leslie Bluhm and her sister Meredith Bluhm-Wolf donated $212,500 to Lightfoot’s campaign for mayor, the newspaper reported. Other donors also have connections with the businesses.

Owners of Rivers Casino in Des Plaines include Bluhm, his relatives and Churchill Downs, the news report said. They may apply to operate the new Chicago venue.

So far, Lightfoot has avoided revealing her location preferences for the proposed gaming venue in Chicago. Nor has she announced preferences for casino operators.

Revenue from the Chicago gaming venue will be divided in thirds among the city, state and the private owner. So, the city is looking forward to the property as a key source of revenue.

Gambling legislation that was approved earlier this month by the Illinois legislature requires that an outside study be completed on expanding gaming. It will review if the initiative makes sense financially for Chicago.

The study will likely take several months. Additional legislation may be needed following the recommendations from the consultant.

Pritzker Yet to Sign Bill

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has yet to sign the far-reaching gaming bill. He does favor it.

After its legislative approval, Pritzker praised the final version and noted how many earlier attempts failed. He added that the bill will keep more gamblers in the state rather than having them go to neighboring locations.

The legislation calls for opening five additional casinos beyond the one in Chicago. Currently, Illinois has 10 casinos and they could soon offer wagering on athletic events.

The current casinos will be able to up the number of slot machines and table games by about 70 percent, according to Bloomberg News. Also, the bill permits a horse track to be opened in the south suburbs near Chicago.

In addition, horse tracks now in operation would provide patrons slot machines and table games. They would also offer sports betting, the legislation said.

Large stadiums, such as Wrigley Field, can provide sports betting under the bill. It allows for wagering inside the ballpark or in a five-block radius.

The Chicago Cubs are looking into sports betting either at Wrigley Field or nearby, the Sun-Times said. Laura Ricketts, whose family owns the Cubs, donated $52,500 to Lightfoot’s campaign, the newspaper reported.

The license for that level of exclusivity around the field would cost $10 million. Licensing fees for less expansive gaming venues are a lower price.

Limited online sports betting will be implemented after an 18-month delay, under the proposal.