These are some of the people in line to profit from Lightfoot’s Bally’s casino deal

Among them: the family of the woman chairing the mayor’s reelection campaign fund, contractors who are Lightfoot financial backers and two clout-heavy real estate investors whose children attended the elementary school where Lightfoot’s daughter was a student.

SHARE These are some of the people in line to profit from Lightfoot’s Bally’s casino deal
Bally’s plan for its River West casino, which includes a grassy plaza.

An artist’s rendering of Bally’s plan for its River West casino, which includes a grassy plaza.

Provided

Three months after Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose Bally’s for a lucrative deal to build and operate Chicago’s first casino, the daughter of a contractor expected to help oversee its construction was named to chair Lightfoot’s campaign fund.

Lightfoot announced Bally’s as her pick last May to develop a casino along the Chicago River on the site of the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant, a deal that required Bally’s to make an upfront payment of $40 million to City Hall.

Then, last August, the mayor’s “Lightfoot for Chicago” campaign fund told the Illinois State Board of Elections it had a new chairwoman: LaToyia Huggins, daughter of Larry Huggins, founder of Riteway-Huggins Construction, Inc.

The Chicago company is among a group of nine businesses, most of them minority-owned, that Bally’s put together to oversee construction of the planned $1.7 billion casino. Under the Bally’s plan — which is contingent on the Illinois Gaming Board granting it a license to operate the casino — the contractors also would create a temporary gambling site at Medinah Temple downtown that would operate until the permanent complex is ready, according to records and interviews.

That means the family of the woman chairing Lightfoot’s reelection campaign fund stands to profit from the casino deal the mayor approved.

Lightfoot, who’s facing eight challengers to her reelection effort in the Feb. 28 election, has lagged behind in most polls and has had a difficult time raising money to pay for campaign expenses such as TV commercials.

Her campaign aides say LaToyia Huggins was selected to head the reelection fund in part because of the mayor’s “longstanding personal relationship” with her.

“LaToyia Huggins is an accomplished leader, and we are proud to have her as campaign committee chair,” Lightfoot campaign spokeswoman Hannah Goss says. “She has a longstanding personal relationship with Mayor Lightfoot based on both of their extensive work uplifting our communities.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

“As campaign committee chair, she is a champion for the mayor’s re-election and a valued volunteer partner to our team.”

LaToyia Huggins, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, also is executive director of the Christmas in the Wards charitable organization that helps Chicago families in need. It was started by her father and is based at his company.

Larry Huggins says that his daughter has worked for his construction company in the past but doesn’t work for him now and has no ownership stake in the company.

He says it was news to him that his daughter is chairing Lightfoot’s campaign fund.

LaToyia Huggins gave $2,900 to a different political committee benefiting Lightfoot, called Light PAC, in 2021, records show, and made two contributions in 2022 — one in March, the other in December — to Lightfoot for Chicago, totaling $4,000.

Paperwork submitted by Bally’s to City Hall shows the group of contractors that are set to help oversee construction of its Chicago casino.

Paperwork submitted by Bally’s to City Hall shows the group of contractors that are set to help oversee construction of its Chicago casino.

Provided

Other companies that stand to profit from the new casino or employees of those companies also have given money to Lightfoot’s campaign, records show. Some of those contributions came before the process began to decide who would get the casino deal. Some were made amid Lightfoot’s vetting process. And others were made after the mayor chose Bally’s.

Last June, about six weeks after Lightfoot announced Bally’s as the winner, three executives of Milhouse Engineering and Construction, Inc., gave her four campaign contributions totaling $11,000, records show. Along with Riteway-Huggins, Milhouse is part of the Chicago Community Builders Collective, essentially a joint venture that Bally’s put together to oversee the casino design and construction as it tried to show that it’s committed to minority hiring.

Representatives of Milhouse, which is based in the Loop, didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Another contractor that’s part of the joint venture, Brown & Momen, gave $1,000 to Lightfoot for Chicago in November, records show.

Lightfoot’s approval of a casino deal with Bally’s also could be lucrative for Michael Mackey, an executive of Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services, where the son of indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan also is an executive. Mackey is on the board of Oak Street Net Lease Trust, which recently bought the Tribune printing plant for $200 million and is leasing the property to Bally’s for the casino.

Michael Mackey, an executive of Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services who also is on the board of Oak Street Net Lease Trust, which recently bought the Tribune printing plant for $200 million and is leasing the property to Bally’s for its planned casino.

Michael Mackey, an executive of Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services who also is on the board of Oak Street Net Lease Trust, which recently bought the Tribune printing plant for $200 million and is leasing the property to Bally’s for its planned casino.

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The Tribune also publishes the Chicago Sun-Times’ print editions.

Oak Street is headed by Marc Zahr, who formerly managed pension funds for the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and the Teachers’ Retirement System of Illinois.

Mackey and Zahr met when their children were students at a Catholic elementary school on the Near North Side. Lightfoot’s daughter was a student there at the same time.

The mayor’s City Hall spokesman says of Oak Street’s deal with Bally’s: “This was a private transaction between the developer and Bally’s. Neither the city nor the mayor were involved in introducing Oak Street and Bally’s to each other. Mayor Lightfoot does not know these individuals personally and has no recollection of ever meeting them.”

Oak Street Net Trust was established last April in Maryland by Zahr’s business associate Michael Reiter, who is on its board.

Bally’s submitted its application for a state gambling license on Aug. 10.

Three weeks later, Oak Street filed its initial documents with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, listing Mackey — who was once appointed to an Illinois state pension board by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich — as one of its seven board members.

Bally’s spokesman Christopher Jewett says the casino company had an option to buy the printing plant site from Nexstar Media Group, the Tribune’s landlord. Jewett says it transferred that option to Zahr’s company, which buys properties and then leases them back to the sellers. He says it has done such deals with parties including government agencies across the country.

Oak Street paid Nexstar $200 million for the 30-acre site on Nov. 18 and secured what’s called a ground lease with Bally’s for 99 years, with renewal options that could extend the deal another 200 years, according to records filed with the Cook County clerk.

Oak Street also has agreed to invest as much as another $300 million with Bally’s toward construction of the casino, according to Bally’s.

Zahr and Mackey, who at one point was an investor in a previous Sun-Times ownership group, won’t comment.

Oak Street has a portfolio of 183 properties valued at a combined $3.1 billion. Neither Oak Street nor Bally’s would say how much the publicly held, Rhode Island-based casino company is paying to rent the property.

As an Oak Street board member, Mackey receives an undisclosed salary. His compensation could rise with the value of the investments including the casino, according to a knowledgeable source.

The Bally’s proposal created a windfall of business for lobbyists: 20 were hired by Bally’s to convince the mayor and the Chicago City Council to embrace its plan. The lobbyists have said in financial disclosure statements filed with City Hall that they collectively were paid more than $670,000.

Among the lobbyists: former state Senate President John Cullerton, Cook County Commissioner John Daley’s son and John Kelly Jr., who has a large stable of lobbying clients.

Lightfoot’s approval of the Bally’s deal is also a potential windfall for Friedman Properties, the landlord for Lightfoot’s campaign fund’s offices. The mayor’s political fund has paid the company nearly $77,000 in rent-related payments since she was first elected.

Developer Albert Friedman.

Developer Albert Friedman.

Friedman Properties

Friedman Properties’ chairman and chief executive officer is developer Albert Friedman, a longtime client of Madigan’s law firm Madigan & Getzendanner, which has appealed the property taxes for many Friedman properties.

Friedman also owns Medinah Temple, where Bally’s plans to open a temporary casino if the state approves its license.

Bally’s initially wanted to build the temporary casino on the Tribune site, but a source involved in the process says Lightfoot instead encouraged it to use the Medinah Temple site.

Her spokesman says, “The mayor had no involvement in the site selection of the temporary casino.”

Bally’s Chicago casino is slated for the current site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 777 W. Chicago Ave.

Bally’s Chicago casino is slated for the current site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 777 W. Chicago Ave.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

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