Bally's bid for Chicago casino moves closer with Lightfoot approval

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Bally's as her selection to become the site of Chicago's first casino on Thursday.

The Bally's site lies near Chicago Avenue and the Chicago River in the River West neighborhood.

Bally's, which operates more than a dozen casinos in the United States, proposed to spend more than $1.7 billion to build a casino and entertainment complex on a site that currently holds the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center.


Bally's proposal includes a 3,000-seat theater; a 500-room hotel tower; an outdoor park; an outdoor music venue; a terrace with a large pool spa, fitness center and sun deck; and six restaurants, cafes and a food hall. 

The casino will contain space for 3,400 slots and 170 table games. 

The city also considered proposals from Hard Rock and Rivers Casinos, but after a consultant claimed in March that Bally's could generate the most revenue, it's been apparent that City Hall was leaning that way.

At least two nearby aldermen vowed to fight the Bally's selection on the council floor.

Bally’s got Lightfoot’s blessing in no small part due to a labor agreement it signed with several unions, locking up key political support from organized labor that will be vital as the mayor tries to get her casino pick approved by the City Council.

That will be no small task, as neighboring aldermen and a vocal contingent of River North residents vehemently oppose the development at an already congested intersection.

Bally’s chairman Soo Kim has argued their plan, with a series of traffic signal upgrades, would actually help reduce congestion. Supporters note the property already is zoned for a much denser development than even the casino. The City Council in 2018 agreed to allow 4.5 million square feet of offices to be built there, plus a hotel and more than 4,000 residences.

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Renderings provided by Bally

An ongoing survey by the River North Residents Association has found nearly 81% of 2,311 respondents are opposed to the casino.

Bally's projected their proposal would create 3,000 annual construction jobs and 3,000 permanent casino jobs.

If the City Council approves their plan, Bally’s would have to apply for a license from the Illinois Gaming Board. That agency has taken at least a year to review each of the other five new casinos that were authorized along with Chicago’s in a sweeping gambling expansion signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019.

Bally’s plan also calls for a luxury hotel, indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, green spaces, fine dining options and a "Chicago sports museum."

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.