Reilly condemns 11th-hour ‘switcheroo’ to Medinah Temple as site for temporary casino

“We’re already struggling with a major crime problem in this area of River North. To layer this on top ... you’re giving the police department an assignment they don’t have the resources to handle,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said.

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Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), left, and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd)

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), left, and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) are upset over how Bally’s casino proposal was selected.

Sun-Times files

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s eleventh-hour “switcheroo” to the landmark Medinah Temple as the site for Bally’s temporary casino will make an alarming spike in River North crime infinitely worse, the local alderperson said Friday.

One day after Lightfoot chose Bally’s River West bid as the site for a permanent Chicago casino, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) accused the mayor of dictating a disastrous choice as the site of a temporary gambling den until at least the first quarter of 2026.

And that’s assuming Bally’s encounters no delays building its $1.7 billion casino and entertainment complex at the site of the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

Reilly is adamantly opposed to the River West site. But he is equally concerned about the choice of Medinah Temple on a site that now has a liquor moratorium put in place with support from the Chicago Police Department.

“We have major, liquor-related quality-of-life issues there right now. We have a lot of criminal activity. We have an open-air drug market a block away. Cops downtown are spread thin,” he said.

“The reason why we have a liquor moratorium is exactly why Medinah Temple is not a great site for a casino. It’s a super-intense use. The downtown police districts are spread super-thin — especially overnight. We see a major uptick in violent crime down here. To add this on top of all that we are already dealing with — an under-resourced police department and calls for service off the charts? A big mistake.”

Reilly said he “drew that line in the sand many weeks ago” and “thought I was heard.” Until “just two days ago,” the plan was to have Bally’s open its temporary casino by the second quarter of 2023 at a former Tribune warehouse at 700 W. Chicago Ave.

“This was literally a switcheroo within the course of 24 hours after I had made it very clear that would be a nonstarter. … That was a bait-and-switch,” the alderperson said.

“We’re already struggling with a major crime problem in this area of River North. To layer this on top — a 24/7 use that intense — you’re giving the police department an assignment they don’t have the resources to handle.”

Reilly and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) are trying to persuade their City Council colleagues to reject Bally’s River West bid on grounds that it will create an impossible bottleneck in an already congested area; Bally’s has never built a casino from the ground up; and Lightfoot went around the City Council committee she created to give herself “political cover” for a decision she had already made.

During a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times that focused on the casino debate, Hopkins accused the mayor of having her “thumb on the scale” in favor of Bally’s from the very beginning.

He argued Bally’s was allowed to drop a so-called “call option” that should have been disqualifying. It would have allowed the company to buy out minority shareholders after six years.

“One of the easiest ways to corrupt a procurement process among limited competitors is to allow one competitor to change their bid based on the knowledge of what the other competitors are doing to basically put their thumb on the scale. And that seems to be what happened here. That’s not right. That’s not fair,” Hopkins said.

“Once you submit your bid, to be able to change it based on insider assistance and help that the other bidders are receiving is wrong and it’s unfair. And that’s clearly what happened in this case.”

If the City Council ratifies the mayor’s choice, Hopkins made a bold prediction: The casino Chicago is counting on to save police and fire pensions will turn out to be “the parking meter deal of 2022.”

“It will be a decision that the people who made it look back years from now with deep regret. And we’ll be on the hook for it,” he said.

Reilly noted that all of the revenue projections are based on a report by Union Gaming, “which just did a $690 million deal with Bally’s last year.”

“The last time we took as gospel a report making a recommendation to approve something quickly, it was the parking meter deal. I got burned on that one. A whole bunch of us did. I promised then that would never happen again,” he said.

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