Several people are lining up to take advantage of Lori Lightfoot’s Bally’s Chicago casino deal
Three months after Mayor Lori Lightfoot selected Bally’s for a lucrative deal to build and operate Chicago’s first casino, the daughter of a contractor who was expected to help oversee its construction was appointed to lead Lightfoot’s campaign funds.
Lightfoot announced Bally’s as its choice this past May to develop a casino along the Chicago River on the site of the Chicago Tribune printing factory, a deal that required Bally’s to make an upfront payment of $40 million to City Hall.
Then, last August, the mayor’s “Lightfoot for Chicago” campaign funds notified the Illinois State Board of Elections that they had a new chairman: LaToyia Huggins, daughter of Larry Huggins, founder of Riteway-Huggins Construction, Inc.
The Chicago firm is among a group of nine businesses, mostly minority-owned, that Bally’s has formed to oversee construction of a planned $1.7 billion casino. Under the Bally plan – which relies on the Illinois Gaming Board granting licenses to operate the casino – contractors will also create a temporary gambling site in the downtown Medina Temple that will operate until a permanent complex is ready, according to notes and interviews. .
That means the family of the woman who leads Lightfoot’s re-election campaign fund will benefit from the mayor’s approval of the casino deal.
Lightfoot, who faces eight challengers to his re-election bid in the February 28 election, is trailing in most opinion polls and is having a hard time raising money to pay campaign expenses such as TV commercials.
Her campaign aides say LaToyia Huggins was chosen to head the re-election fund in part because of the mayor’s “longstanding personal relationship” with her.
“LaToyia Huggins is an accomplished leader, and we are proud to have her as campaign committee chair,” said Lightfoot campaign spokeswoman Hannah Goss. “He has a long personal relationship with Mayor Lightfoot by virtue of both their extensive work uplifting our community.
“As campaign committee chair, she is a champion re-election mayor and a valuable volunteer partner to our team.”
LaToyia Huggins, who did not return calls seeking comment, is also the executive director of a Christmas charity organization in Wards that helps Chicago families in need. It was started by his father and is based in his company.
Larry Huggins said his daughter used to work for his construction company in the past but now doesn’t work for him and has no ownership stake in the company.
He said it was news to him that his daughter was leading the Lightfoot campaign fund.
LaToyia Huggins is giving $2,900 to different political committees that benefit Lightfoot, called Light PACs, in 2021, according to records, and making two contributions in 2022 — one in March, the other in December — to Lightfoot for Chicago, for a total $4,000.
Documents submitted by Bally’s to City Hall show a group of contractors who will help oversee the construction of its Chicago casino.
Other companies profiting from the new casinos or the company’s employees have also given money to Lightfoot campaigns, records show. Some of those contributions come before the process starts deciding who gets the casino deal. Some were created in the middle of the Lightfoot inspection process. And others were created after the mayor voted for Bally’s.
Last June, about six weeks after Lightfoot announced Bally’s as the winner, three Milhouse Engineering and Construction, Inc. executives made four of his campaign contributions totaling $11,000, according to records. Together with Riteway-Huggins, Milhouse was part of the Chicago Community Builders Collective, which was essentially a joint venture Bally created to oversee casino design and construction as it tried to demonstrate they were committed to minority recruiting.
Representatives for Milhouse, who is based in Loop, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Another contractor that was part of a joint venture, Brown & Moment, awarded Lightfoot $1,000 for Chicago in November, according to records.
Lightfoot’s approval of the casino deal with Bally’s could also be lucrative for Michael Mackey, an executive of Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services, whose indicted former Illinois House speaker Michael J. Madigan is also an executive. Mackey is on the board of the Oak Street Net Lease Trust, which recently bought the Tribune printing factory for $200 million and leased the property to Bally’s for the casino.
Michael Mackey, an Alliant/Mesirow Insurance Services executive who is also on the board of Oak Street Net Lease Trust, which recently bought the Tribune printing factory for $200 million and leased the property to Bally’s for its casino plans.
The Tribune also publishes a print edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Oak Street is led by Marc Zahr, who previously managed retirement funds for the Chicago Teacher Retirement Fund and the Illinois Teacher Retirement System.
Mackey and Zahr met when their children were students at a Catholic elementary school on the Near North Side. Princess Lightfoot was a student there at the same time.
A spokesman for the mayor’s Town Hall said of Oak Street’s deal with Bally’s: “This is a private transaction between the developer and Bally’s. Neither the city nor the mayor were involved in introducing Oak Street and Bally’s to one another. Mayor Lightfoot does not know these people personally and has no recollection of meeting them.”
Oak Street Net Trust was founded last April in Maryland by Zahr’s business partner, Michael Reiter, who sits on the board of directors.
Bally’s applied for a state gambling license on Aug. 10.
Three weeks later, Oak Street filed its initial paperwork with the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission, listing Mackey – having been appointed to the Illinois state pension board by the then governor. Rod Blagojevich — as one of the seven board members.
Bally’s spokesman, Christopher Jewett, said the casino company had an option to buy the printing factory site from Nexstar Media Group, which owns the Tribune. Jewett said it transferred that option to Zahr’s company, which bought the property and then leased it back to the seller. He said that his party had made such an agreement with parties including government agencies throughout the country.
Oak Street paid Nexstar $200 million for the 30-acre site on Nov. 18 and secured what it’s calling a 99-year land lease with Bally’s, with the option of a renewal that could extend the deal for another 200 years, according to records filed with Cook County officials.
Oak Street has also agreed to invest another $300 million with Bally’s for casino development, according to Bally’s.
Zahr and Mackey, who have been investors in the Sun-Times-owned group previously, would not comment.
Oak Street has a portfolio of 183 properties worth a combined $3.1 billion. Neither Oak Street nor Bally’s would say how much the Rhode Island-based casino company paid to rent the property.
As a board member of Oak Street, Mackey received an undisclosed salary. The compensation could go up with the value of the investment including the casino, according to a knowledgeable source.
Bally’s proposal creates a windfall of business for lobbyists: 20 people are hired by Bally’s to convince the mayor and the Chicago City Council to accept his plan. Lobbyists said in financial disclosure reports filed with City Hall that they were collectively paid more than $670,000.
Among the lobbyists: former state Senate President John Cullerton, son of Cook County Commissioners John Daley and John Kelly Jr., who has many lobbying clients.
Lightfoot’s approval of the Bally deal is also a potential windfall for Friedman Properties, owners of Lightfoot’s campaign finance firm. The mayor’s political fund has paid the company nearly $77,000 in rent-related payments since he was first elected.
Developer Albert Friedman.
The chairman and chief executive officer of Friedman Properties is developer Albert Friedman, a longtime client of the indicted speaker law firm Madigan & Getzendanner, which has appealed property taxes for many of Friedman’s properties.
Friedman also owns the Medina Temple, where Bally’s plans to open a temporary casino if the state approves the permit.
Bally’s originally wanted to build a temporary casino on the Tribune site, but sources involved in the process say Lightfoot pushed it instead to use the Medina Temple site.
His spokesman said, “The mayor is not involved in the selection of the temporary casino site.”
Bally’s Chicago Casino is slated for the current location of the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 777 W. Chicago Ave.