Despite City Approval Dark Clouds Hang Over Casino Choice
As critics continue to shoot it down, dark clouds hang over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s much-ballyhooed “casino-for-dummies” choice.
Despite approval of the $1.7-billion Bally River West casino proposal by the City Council, there is continued hand-wringing about the largely secretive selection process, lack of review, quick passage of the deal, and the moral pitfalls of gambling itself.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (2nd Ward) said Lightfoot’s attempt to rush the casino deal through the City Council raised the specter of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s infamous parking-meter deal, which also was rammed through with little transparency and even less debate.
What may be more offensive is “administration mouthpieces” presenting the casino as a solution for the city’s financial problems, said Paul Vallas, former budget director for the city and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
Vallas is one of five candidates running against Mayor Lightfoot in the up-coming election.
“The mayor and her allies are outright lying about the two claimed important benefits of the casino: that it provides a solution to the city’s worsening pension crisis, and that it will enable the city to avoid a property tax increase,” said Vallas. “It will do neither.”
Bally Corporation predicted the casino would pump $200 million annually into pension coffers. Unfortunately, that represents just 9% of the city’s annual pension contribution. However, Bally is not contractually required by the city to actually deliver that amount.
The proposed Bally casino would replace the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 777 W. Chicago Ave. This bustling intersection is boxed in by the Chicago River, vehicular bridges and Metra railroad tracks—not an ideal site for a mega development. Traffic congestion on Chicago Ave. west of Halsted also includes a steady flow of trucks from a cement plant on Goose Island.
In addition to the casino’s 3,400 slot machines and 173 gaming tables, Bally’s plan also includes a hotel, an entertainment complex, a food hall, four bars, an outdoor park and an amenity terrace.
The latest actions by the key state regulatory body responsible for examining the qualifications of Bally and the Chicago casino is sparking calls to kill the casino project altogether, according to anti-gambling groups.
The Illinois Gambling Board, the government agency charged with overseeing the gambling industry in the state—including the Chicago casino proposal—recently advanced an application for an online-only sports wagering license for Grupo Caliente, a company allegedly connected to illegal drugs and money laundering.
Apparently, Grupo Caliente, and its owner Jorge Hank Rhon, have been cited by the New York Inspector General as “the subject of numerous allegations of illegal activities.”
In addition, Rhon “has been suspected by U.S. law enforcement and Mexican authorities of illegal money-laundering activities related to illicit drug trafficking, particularly with the Arellano Felix drug cartel based in Tijuana,” according to a report by the national advocacy group, Stop Predatory Gambling, and Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.
The two anti-gaming advocacy groups sent a terse letter to the Illinois Gambling Board outlining serious concerns with Grupo Caliente, and its owner Rhon, highlighting the following serious charges:
• The governor of Baja, Mexico accused Rhon of being responsible for the high-crime rate in his state.
• A reporter investigating Rhon’s alleged drug use was assassinated, and employees of Rhon’s dog-racing track were convicted of the murder. Another employee has disappeared and the case remains under investigation.
• The Nevada Gaming Board effectively ended all contracts with Grupo Caliente due to concerns with its shady operations.
• Rhon’s dog-racing track does not have animal-welfare standards. Also, Rhon has faced arrest and fines due to trafficking of wildlife, including endangered species, as well as illegal firearms possession.
The two anti-gambling groups are concerned over the negligence of the Illinois Gaming Board and its questionable ability to properly regulate the impact of the new Bally casino and other ventures on gambling addiction and criminal activity.
“When the people regulating gambling see an operator who has been suspected of money laundering, wildlife trafficking, and ties to drug trafficking for the Mexican cartels as acceptable, it demonstrates even further why the citizens of Chicago can’t trust the Lightfoot administration,” said Zach Savella Stallard, of Stop Predatory Gambling Illinois.
Lightfoot’s claim that the “casino regulatory-approval process will protect our communities” is untrustworthy, Stallard said.
Here is a link to the Illinois Gambling Board letter: https://www.stoppredatorygambling.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/2022-Caliente-letter-to-IGB.pdf