Gambling in Illinois: Bally’s Wins Final Approval for a $1.74 Billion Casino in Chicago

profile image of bmr
Bally's Atlantic City hotel and casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP).

It has been a long and winding road for Bally’s to win final approval for their $1.74 billion casino on the site of the old Chicago Tribune building located in River West but that time has finally arrived, paving the way for sports betting in Illinois.

Change the Rules

Previous Chicago mayors, Rahm Emanuel, and before him Richard M. Daley, tried to convince the General Assembly that a casino in the city would bring massive revenues that could be used to fund a variety of projects and programs. But the idea never took hold and stagnated until Lori Lightfoot took office.

Bringing a casino and the revenue that comes along with it had always been a priority for Lightfoot, but it took her several attempts to change the rules that kept a gambling palace from manifesting somewhere within the city limits.

Finally, a feasibility study demonstrating the need to revise the tax structure opened the eyes of the Assembly men and women who had either voted against it or were on the fence. This gave the newly elected mayor her first victory in opening an untapped market that would help stabilize fire and police pension funds that had previously been shored up with monies derived from property taxes.

At the time, Lightfoot said, “This moment is decades in the making, and represents a critical step toward shoring up our city’s pension obligations, as well as driving huge levels of infrastructure funding and fueling thousands of new jobs for all of Illinois.”

Not Everyone’s a Fan

But that was only the first step. There were many hurdles to clear, but one of the most contentious moments of the process came when Lightfoot gave her blessing to the Bally’s project located at River West over the Hard Rock’s proposed site at the One Central development on the Near South Side, and the local entry, Rush Street Gaming’s proposed Rivers Casino at The 78 in the South Loop.

Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, one of Lightfoot’s biggest critics, objected to Bally’s proposal and accused the mayor of partisanship, “(Lightfoot) is more worried about campaign contributions than doing the right thing for the city of Chicago.”

Lightfoot shot back, “You are a liar! You are a liar, sir, and you are out of order!”

“I sit here and I will not tolerate you besmirching the hard work of so many people who have worked on this!” Lightfoot said. “You may not agree, you may not agree, then vote no. But I will not sit here silently while you besmirch my reputation and the people that work for me from your pettiness of the things you’re trying to do that expose this city to liability, sir!”

“Almost every word that comes out of your mouth after you say your name is a lie,” Lightfoot added.

Lightfoot Takes Victory Lap

The magic moment Lightfoot and her constituents were waiting for came earlier this week when the Chicago City Council voted 39-5 to approve the project. This historic vote paves the way for Bally’s to be licensed by the Illinois Gaming Board but that appears to be more of a formality than a challenge.

Alderman Walter Burnett has been vocal in his support of Lightfoot’s ambition to bring a world-class gaming facility to Chicago and stated months ago, “I am proud to support the forthcoming Bally’s Chicago casino here in the 27th Ward. It will be a world-class entertainment destination that provides jobs, boosts tourism numbers, and brings a host of incredible amenities into the 27th Ward.”

After the successful vote this week Burnett commented, “This is something that three administrations have been trying to do. Three administrations, for over 30 years, have been trying to do it. This mayor got it done.”