The three proposed casino projects in Chicago are facing increasing opposition as several members of the Chicago City Council expressed criticism for the sites proposed in or close to their wards. Alderperson Pat Dowell, who represents the city’s third ward, is against the proposed Hard Rock facility near Soldier Field. Yesterday she acknowledged in a statement that while the city indeed needs a revenue boost from gaming, the One Central project did not cut muster with her.
Alderperson Dowell cited overcrowding and public safety as the main reasons for her opposition. According to Dowell, the region proposed for the Hard Rock casino is unsuitable since it is home to an established residential community in Chicago’s historic Prairie Avenue District.
Dowell is not the only City Council member objecting to the proposed casino sites in Chicago. The other two include Bally’s project for the former Chicago Tribune printing facility in the River West neighborhood and Rush Street Gaming’s project for The 78 neighborhood. Both projects provoked criticism on behalf of the local communities during public meetings in early April.
Dowell Is Not the Only Alderperson to Raise Objections
Community members were not the only ones to speak harshly about the proposed sites, which faced similar criticism on behalf of City Council alderpersons. Alderpersons Brendan Reilly of the forty-second ward and Brian Hopkins of the second ward disagree with Bally’s site, while Alderperson Byron Sigcho-Lopez opposes the choice of The 78 area.
Walter Burnett, who represents Chicago’s twenty-seventh ward, is the only alderperson not to speak in opposition of the Bally site. According to Burnett, Bally has received support from many community members but they are simply not as vocal as the project’s opponents. Residents are willing to overlook the negative effects of a potential casino since it would create many jobs for the locals.
Alderperson Sigcho-Lopez expressed concerns Dowell was trying to sway Mayor Lori Lightfoot in favor of choosing The 78 neighborhood for the casino. Mayor Lightfoot is hoping for a decision on the chosen site this summer. Once it is reached, the Illinois Gaming Board would be able to start reviewing the new license applicant.
According to Alderperson Sigcho-Lopez, the Chicago Mayor has collected over $200,000 in campaign contributions from the daughters of Neil Bluhm, the casino magnate who seeks to build a casino at The 78. Sigcho-Lopez is concerned this could further tip the scales in favor of this site.
Increased Traffic Is among the Reasons for Objection
Alderperson Reilly believes locating the casino in his ward makes no sense since the densely-populated area is already thriving economically. In his words, the main incentive behind building a casino is to boost the local economy. Choosing his ward for the site makes no sense from this perspective, he concluded. Alderperson Hopkins from the second ward is mainly concerned with potential traffic challenges a new casino can create in the already congested intersection of Halsted St. and Chicago Avenue.
Bally is the only candidate to propose an upfront payment ($25 million) if its project gets selected. A recent report by the Chicago City Hall estimated that the operator’s project could generate over $191 million in additional revenue for the city each year, which slightly exceeds the projections for the other candidates. In the meantime, Bally is the only candidate that does not currently operate a casino near the Windy City, which prevents any potential conflict of interest with other gaming venues.