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Chicago Mayor Shares Skepticism Over Bally’s Casino Project

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has shared a feeling of doubt that Bally’s will complete its plans for a permanent casino in the city.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson
Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP photo
Derek Helling Avatar
3 mins read

As the future of the Bally’s Corp. remains unclear, the ramifications of that uncertainty are visible on local levels. Recent comments by Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson point to that impact.

Johnson shared doubts that Bally’s will be able to complete its development of a casino in the city’s West Loop neighborhood. If Bally’s doesn’t provide concrete reassurance of its capability soon, Johnson’s sentiment could become more commonplace in Chicago.

Johnson shares thoughts on Bally’s with local media

On June 10, Johnson met with members of the Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial board. He discussed many topics during that meeting, with the progress on Bally’s Chicago among them.

Johnson told the board he wished he could say something definitive about the casino development. He then elaborated on the situation.

“I know our team is working with ownership to figure it out like we figured out some of the other things that I’ve inherited,” Johnson said. “It just has to make absolute sense. … I think that one’s still to be determined, to be perfectly frank with you.”

Johnson also likened the situation to the recent agreement the city reached with major airlines over renovations to O’Hare Airport. He stressed that his administration was able to overcome challenges in that deal.

Regardless of how amenable Johnson might be to assisting Bally’s in its bid to renovate the Freedom Center into a casino, many of the issues are internal at Bally’s. Thus, there might not be much Chicago’s government can do about that.

Bally’s turmoil bigger than Chicago casino

The issue, when it comes to Chicago, is all about funding for Bally’s. In winning the license, Bally’s committed to spending at least $1.34 billion on the casino.

At this point, it still has more than $1.1 billion of that commitment remaining. Amid that situation, the company’s chief financial officer disclosed in March that Bally’s is about $800 million short in terms of having the funds necessary to fulfill its promise in Chicago.

While the CFO expressed confidence in Bally’s securing the financing, shareholders in the company have been less optimistic. A buyout bid from Standard General has heightened the doubts about the company’s future.

Meanwhile, Johnson and other leaders in Chicago have to prepare for many scenarios. Johnson’s comments suggest that the worst-case scenario is among them.

Could Chicago make a proactive move with Bally’s?

It’s unclear exactly what Johnson considers to be a resolution that makes sense between Bally’s and Chicago. That might greatly depend on how soon and whether Bally’s shares that it has the funding necessary to complete its commitment to the city.

If delays persist, Johnson and others in the city might be more apt to look for solutions that don’t involve Bally’s. While Bally’s has been running a casino in temporary accommodations within Chicago since September, there is no statutory requirement that would prevent Chicago from at least trying to go in a different direction.

Bally’s becoming privately owned might inspire Johnson to take a proactive approach to securing investment in Chicago from another party. Everything would hinge on what Johnson deems to make sense for the city.

What seems obvious is that Johnson isn’t convinced that total devotion to Bally’s makes sense for Chicago right now. How Bally’s responds could depend on how many circumstances play out.

Derek Helling Avatar
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Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

View all posts by Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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