Bob Reiter: Chicago’s new casino is right on time for first responders and their pensions

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A Chicago casino will positively affect the lives of millions of Chicagoans. We anticipated this opportunity for decades, and we will not let it pass us by.

Through negotiation and collaboration among the city, developers, contractors and our affiliate unions, the casino will bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the city’s police and fire pension crisis, as well as give Chicago’s tourism and hospitality industry a much-needed boost.

I don’t know how else to put this, but Chicago needs this casino. And after 30 years of preparation, we are ready to seize this moment.

When Illinois first dipped its toe into gaming through the Riverboat Gambling Act of 1990, it explicitly forbade a casino in Chicago. That changed in 2019 when Mayor Lori Lightfoot and labor worked with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly to create Chicago’s first casino license.

Three years and one pandemic later, Lightfoot selected, and the City Council now has the chance to approve, an incredible plan for our first casino — one that is sure to realize substantial revenue and help us rebuild our economy as we emerge from COVID-19′s devastation.

I support the Bally’s casino. And I thank the city for ensuring that this casino’s workers will represent all of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. Bally’s committed to hiring a 60% minority workforce and affirmed that the workers will have a free and fair process to be represented by a union. Its proposal would not only create thousands of union construction jobs, but also Bally’s was the only casino bidder to sign a labor peace agreement with the unions that represent gaming and hospitality workers in Chicago.

This means all the workers at the new casino, hotel, restaurants and entertainment venue will have the chance to earn family-sustaining wages and benefits. For example, the attendant who parks your car, the dealer at the poker table, the server who brings your drink, the stagehand who sets up the show and the engineer who keeps the building running — all those workers would be the faces of the Bally’s casino.

It’s the working people who make this a world-class city, and it’s the working people who will make this a world-class casino.

Providing equitable employment is critical to reviving Chicago’s tourism-related industries that were hit especially hard by COVID-19. Over the course of the pandemic, 12,000 hotel workers lost their jobs, and thousands more in convention and entertainment were laid off. A new casino will undoubtedly uplift Chicago’s tourism and hospitality industry, which has been struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Since the labor movement represents everyday working Chicagoans, we were excited to see legitimate community concerns are also addressed in the city’s proposed deal with Bally’s. This includes a one-time upfront payment of $40 million, plus a fixed payment of $4 million a year in perpetuity to the city, of which $2 million will be earmarked for community benefits to address transportation and economic and social effects, as well as providing support for problem gambling. Community stakeholders, including residents in the areas surrounding the proposed casino, as well as labor, will continue to have the ability to provide feedback at key moments.

This casino comes at a time when our city is hurting for revenue, and we have an opportunity to improve the city’s financial future. The tax revenue generated by the casino has been earmarked to help the city’s depleted police and fire pension funds. Right now, they are less than one-quarter fully funded. The $200 million a year in revenues is an essential component to funding these pension obligations and creating long-term financial stability for the city.

Our first responders put their own lives on the line day in and day out, and it is time we say thank you by safeguarding their hard-earned pensions.

Bob Reiter is president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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May 23, 2022 at 05:07PM

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