Casino Chicago: bidding process must be transparent and fair, writes editorial board

The break went to Bally’s, which offered separate bids to build the casino — one on the McCormick Place rail yards and one on the Trib site along the North Fork of the Chicago River — but only paid the cost of application only once.

It’s not like Bally’s was the only group to submit two different offers. Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming, which had hoped to build a casino at the Lakeside Center on the McCormick Place campus, paid $300,000 for that request as well as for its separate proposal to build a casino on Related Midwest’s The 78 property. The Lakeside Center idea was rejected, but The 78’s proposal was retained by the mayor on the shortlist of three finalists for the casino license.

With the Lightfoot administration’s final decision on who will win this coveted license, rumored to be a few weeks, if not days away, the question arises: why were the two dual bidders treated differently?

None of the justifications offered to Crain by people close to the situation really add up.

“In the case of Bally’s, it was the same claimant and the same ownership group that came up with an alternative site,” an administrative source who asked not to be named told Hinz. “In the case of Rush Gaming, there were two different applicants with different ownership groups in each application.”

It’s true. At McCormick Place, Rush Street partnered with Farpoint Development and The 78 with Related. However, Farpoint is leading the development of the former Michael Reese Medical Center property. Related, of course, came under close scrutiny from City Hall on the way to approving The 78 project. Both companies were largely vetted by the city before applying for the opportunity. from the casino.

And while Bally’s offered the same ownership structure, there were considerable differences between its proposals. In the case of the Tribune land, Bally’s has an option to purchase the property, just like for example. No such agreement was in place at the McCormick Yard site that Bally had ogled.

The application fee kerfuffle is just the latest in a series of events that are giving outside observers reason to wonder if the casino selection process will be as fair and honest as it should be. If Chicago is to have a casino, its taxpayers deserve to be assured that the winning bidder got the prize for the right reasons — and that no one inside City Hall has their thumbs on the scales. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, even in Chicago.

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