Did a city consultant’s financial relationship with Bally’s help the gamer win the casino bid?

The Johnson administration should step in now and find out one way or another.

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A rendering of the proposed Bally’s casino the hotel tower along Chicago Avenue.

A rendering of the proposed Bally’s casino in River North, near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

Provided

The previous mayoral administration pitched a casino and the process that selected Bally’s as the operator as a good thing for Chicago.

But what should have been a painstaking and publicly transparent pathway toward finally realizing City Hall’s long-held dream of creating a casino that could help pay off the city’s pension deficit has been anything but.

The latest concern was brought to light last week by Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Robert Herguth.

The reporters found Nomura Securities International had financial ties to Bally’s while serving as a consultant to then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration, charged with soliciting and evaluating bids from gaming operators for the planned Chicago casino.

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The potential conflict joins other problematic turns in the rushed attempt to build a casino, including Lightfoot virtually single-handedly choosing Bally’s over a pair of more established casino operators in May 2022.

Did Nomura, which was already being paid a $1.5 million consulting fee by the city, feather its own nest even more by bringing Bally’s to the table and helping it win the bid?

It’s hard to tell. But it’s enough to raise concerns as well as eyebrows.

A potential double-deal?

At question is a $2.6 billion deal involving Bally’s that was separate from the Chicago casino machinations — but happening at the same time.

Bally’s sought to buy an online British gaming company called Gamesys. But as part of the deal, Bally’s had to pay off Gamesys’ lenders, according to documents Bally’s filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Guess what company was among the creditors? Nomura Securities.

Did the city know Nomura stood to get a payoff on the Gamesys deal from Bally’s, one of the companies it was supposed to be objectively evaluating as part of Chicago’s casino selection process?

Lightfoot and her former top aides won’t say, only offering that Nomura “held no substantive role” in choosing Bally’s’ plan over those of other bidders.

A Nomura spokesman says the same thing, claiming the company solicited Bally’s Chicago casino bid, but it didn’t make any recommendations to Lightfoot’s administration about which casino operator should be selected.

Both answers strain the reins of credibility, given Nomura was paid to solicit and evaluate casino bids.

What role did the company’s evaluation play in helping Lightfoot choose Bally’s? The public has the right to know.

And there is the larger issue: The city knew or should have known about the relationship between Bally’s and Nomura, and should have either asked for a written clarification — and publicly disclosed their responses — or removed one or both of the companies from the casino selection process for fairness’ sake.

A role for the Johnson administration

At this point, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration should review the $1.7 billion casino selection process from top to bottom. There’s been too much hinkiness, both great and small, not to consider a thorough look-see before things get too far.

For instance, Chicago’s projected $200-million-a-year take from casino gambling revenues are Bally’s own numbers — unconfirmed by the city. A new and independent eye would be helpful here.

And this editorial board has always been troubled by the process that gave the city Bally’s.

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When Lightfoot was in office, she created a special City Council casino committee, handpicked its members and supposedly empowered the body to make decisions on the matter.

The committee met only once before Lightfoot ended up picking Bally’s herself.

And now with the Bally’s and Nomura connection, there is enough smoke swirling around casino plans to warrant a closer examination.

Is there a fire? The Johnson administration should act now to make sure the public knows one way or another — and take steps to fix it if need be.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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