Casino plan moves forward, but deal still has too many lingering questions
Bally’s is not contractually obligated to meet its own revenue projections. The Lightfoot administration agreeing to this reeks to us of haste and desperation.
Chicago’s first casino is barreling toward likely City Council approval this week, even as a mess of questions about the venture swirl behind it.
The Council’s Special Committee on the Chicago Casino voted 27-3 Monday to send the measure to the full City Council for likely approval on Wednesday.
This is Chicago and we are not naive: Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants a casino and created the committee — and handpicked its members —so no one could expect an outright rejection of the Bally’s casino plan.
But given the concerns expressed by residents, activists and even fellow alderpersons about the casino’s location, size, economic projections and more, the committee could have — and certainly should have — pumped the brakes on the approval process to allow time to get more of those questions fully answered.
As Monday’s committee meeting brought the casino closer to approval, it also showed how many key details about the deal have stood in the shadows — only to leap out to greater scrutiny now.
For instance, that $200 million a year windfall the casino is supposed to generate to help the city meet its police and fire pension obligations?
The city’s take won’t get that high until the casino has been operating for six years. Still, we suppose we can live with that — if it turns out to be true.
But there’s ample room for doubt, because Bally’s is not contractually required by the city to actually deliver the $200 million, the city’s Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett, told the committee.
“It’s a promise, but that’s all,” Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who voted against the measure, said to Bennett.
That’s alarming, and something Chicagoans should have known from the start. Especially since the $200 million projection came from Bally’s — and was a key reason the gaming giant was picked over four other competitors.
And now they’re not required to live up to their own numbers? The Lightfoot administration agreeing to this reeks to us of haste and desperation.
So why the rush to get this thing passed now?
Bally’s agreed to make an upfront $40 million payment into the city’s police and fire pension funds once approval comes, which is no small thing.
And admittedly, given the looming pension crisis, the city does need to get moving on the casino deal.
But not at the expense of taking the time to make sure the deal gets done the right way — and actually delivers on the big promises made to taxpayers.
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