Bally’s to chip in $2 million annually for public safety around temporary casino site — ‘totally insufficient,’ opponents say

With crime among the top concerns of a vocal contingent of neighbors vehemently opposed to the development, the $2 million is meant to bolster security around the temporary site at a River North intersection that already has entrenched crime issues, opposing Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has said.

SHARE Bally’s to chip in $2 million annually for public safety around temporary casino site — ‘totally insufficient,’ opponents say
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Bally’s casino in River West.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Bally’s casino in River West.

Provided

In an effort to quell community concerns over the potential for increased crime around Chicago’s first casino, Bally’s Corp. has agreed to chip in for enhanced neighborhood public safety — starting out at just $2 million per year.

That would be enough to cover the annual salaries of about 24 officers making $82,458 each, the city’s going rate for cops with 18 months on the job. But thousands of officers make six figures in the department — which has seen massive attrition rates over the past few years — and while the $2 million is earmarked “to provide additional public safety services in the area,” it’s not clear exactly what that entails.

They’re among the terms of the host community agreement and resolution that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is aiming to pass through her handpicked City Council casino committee. The original plan was for the committee to back the casino Friday, but a source involved with the matter said late Thursday the vote now will come next week.

Friday’s committee meeting will be for discussion only, the source said. He said the committee will take its vote Tuesday and the casino will quickly be taken up by the full City Council, either that day or Thursday. He said there are ample votes to pass Bally’s $1.7 billion River West proposal and that the extra few days is just to let alderpersons get all questions answered.

The Rhode Island gambling company’s deal with the mayor’s office calls for it to start taking bets at a temporary site — the landmark Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave. — within a year of Illinois Gaming Board approval, and to complete its massive casino-resort at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street within three years.

With crime among the top concerns of a vocal contingent of neighbors vehemently opposed to the development, the $2 million is meant to bolster security around the temporary site at a River North intersection that already has entrenched crime issues, local Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has said.

The $2 million annual payment will be cut in half once the permanent site in River West opens, according to the draft host agreement, with half going toward public safety and half to “​​community service projects” picked through the local alderperson’s office. The final casino site falls in 27th Ward of Ald. Walter Burnett, who has thrown his full support behind the project.

But Reilly, leading the opposition against Bally’s bid along with Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), quipped that the 64-page agreement “has so many holes in it, Swiss cheese would be jealous.”

“The funding allocation for security for the permanent and temporary sites is totally insufficient. Whomever came up with those numbers pulled them out of thin air. Why? Because a public safety assessment was never prepared for either location, there are no legitimate estimates for what it will truly cost to secure these locations,” Reilly wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

Hopkins predicted that “just having OEMC directing traffic during major events, you’re going to burn that up before the summer is over.”

After going through the document with a fine-tooth comb, Reilly said, “This transfers an incredible amount of authority away from the City Council to the Executive Branch. … This empowers the Chief Financial Officer to make big, unilateral decisions like providing Bally’s with ‘waivers’ to obligations & deadlines stipulated in the Agreement — without City Council approval.”

Reilly argued that the City Council is “being sold a bill of goods” with a vaguely-worded host agreement that “reads more like a list of aspirational goals than it does a binding agreement with iron-clad commitments.”

The agreement puts in writing many of the amenities Bally’s has promised throughout their campaign to land the big-city casino. In addition to the 3,400-slot machine casino, they’re promising the city a 3,000-square-foot theater, 23,000 square feet of exhibition space, 2.4 acres of green space, 3,300 parking spaces, an extension of the Chicago Riverwalk and more — covering all infrastructure costs without a single taxpayer penny.

The deal would also lock up a one-time payment of $40 million straight to city coffers, while the finished casino is projected to churn out close to $200 million in annual tax revenue.

But Reilly said the agreement is riddled with “ridiculous” promises to “make a good-faith effort” that are more like a child telling a parent they will “try their hardest, promise,” he said.

“With the flick of a pen, the Administration, via the CFO, can amend this agreement to provide Bally’s with additional `relief’ from many of these obligations — things that are important to my colleagues like: minority participation, public safety and construction deadlines,” Reilly wrote.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Bally’s casino in River West.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Bally’s casino in River West.

Provided

During the one and only subject matter hearing held by the City Council’s special casino committee before Lightfoot chose Bally’s, Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett argued that the $40 million upfront payment from Bally’s was desperately needed to help erase an $866.8 million shortfall in the mayor’s 2023 budget.

The alternative, Bennett said, was a pre-election property tax increase.

But earlier this week, the 2023 shortfall was revised downward — to $305.7 million — thanks to held-over federal stimulus funds and an improving economy.

That could make it more difficult for top mayoral aides to make the argument in support of a casino vote that some alderpersons view as rushed.

Hopkins said he believes that he and Reilly still have a shot at defeating the mayor’s plan in committee even though it’s an uphill battle against the formidable clout of organized labor.

“The drumbeat of opposition has been growing….Most aldermen—especially the North Side aldermen—have realized that this is a plank they may not want to walk for this mayor. It’s a wildly unpopular decision and the process is so tainted—anybody who goes along with this, this is your parking meter deal. You’re gonna live with this hanging on you for a while and nobody wants to,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said organized labor has smartly engaged in a “targeted strategy” by divvying up the alderpersons their individual union locals are closest to and, “Those are the ones that have been calling us—over and over again.”

“It’s a pretty smart strategy when you think about it because you’re trying to deal with several roll call votes over the span of the next two [Council] meetings. Committee report. Then, final passage. Then, there’ll be a trailer I’m sure because they can’t get it all in one omnibus package,” Hopkins said.

“So, trying to keep 26 members together — the old saying about herding cats — that really applies here.”

Hopkins, who is mulling a race for mayor against Lightfoot, said he thinks he knows why the mayor is rushing the casino vote, even though many alderpersons are still not comfortable with an agreement that Chicago will be living with for decades.

“It’s politically motivated. The mayor has realized that, the longer this drags out, the more political damage she incurs just from the constant attention on trying to put through a fraudulent, rubber-stamp process,” he said.

“The more attention on it, the worse it is for Mayor `Bring in the Light.’ It’s the exact opposite of who she told us she was when she ran for this office four years ago.”

Contributing: David Roeder

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