Bally’s Chicago Faces Backlash for Chinatown Shuttle

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Bally’s Chicago is facing criticism for quietly running a free shuttle between its temporary gaming facility inside the historic Medinah Temple and the Windy City’s Chinatown neighborhood.

The exterior of Bally’s Chicago is seen in November 2023. Bally’s Chicago is facing some backlash for running a free shuttle to the casino from Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. (Image: CoStar Group)

Reports surfaced this week that Bally’s has been transporting people from the Chinatown area about three miles north of the casino to gamble since October. The free bus picks up and drops off from outside the Chinatown Public Library every hour.

Chinese people, we like to gamble,” Chinatown resident Wing Chan told ABC Chicago.

Not everyone is thrilled about Bally’s seemingly targeting a certain demographic. Grace Chan McKibben, the executive director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, says the nonprofit she leads was formed 25 years ago in response to Northwest Indiana casinos running similar shuttles from Chicago’s Chinatown.

I think it’s troubling, because it seems like Bally’s is specifically interested in customers that are coming from Chinatown,” McKibben said. “I think there’s a concern. And the concern is for the people that may be addicted to gambling and may have problems.”

McKibben said it was only recently brought to her attention that Bally’s was running a shuttle between the casino and Chinatown. A report by Block Club Chicago, a nonprofit news organization focused on the country’s third-most populated city, broke the Chinatown shuttle news.

Asian Communities Fancy Gambling

“If you don’t gamble, you don’t know how lucky you are” is a popular saying among Asian communities, including the Chinese and Vietnamese. Walk into any casino in a major U.S. city and the odds are good there will be a considerable number of Asians testing that luck.

Chicago Ald. Nicole Lee, whose 11th Ward includes Chinatown, told Block Club Chicago that she too has concerns with Bally’s transporting Asians to its casino. She plans to meet with Bally’s reps and Chinatown leaders early next year to make sure the service isn’t preying on the Chinese community.

Mark Wong, the general manager of Bally’s Chicago, says the shuttle is available to all riders. He says the shuttle is to create “better access to the casino” and the company has received “positive feedback” on the Chinatown service.

Along with the Chinatown shuttle, Bally’s Chicago runs a shuttle from Furama Restaurant at 2828 S. Wentworth, just south of Chinatown. Wong says the casino is mulling additional routes for 2024.

24/7 Casino Gambling

Bally’s Chicago recently went 24/7. When it opened in September, the temporary facility was open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. The casino’s operating hours went around the clock on Dec. 27 after receiving the go-ahead from the Illinois Gaming Control Board.

Bally’s Chicago offers nearly 800 slot machines from penny machines to $100 per spin. The facility also offers more than 50 table games, including baccarat, which is the game of choice among many Asian gamblers.

The Medinah Temple facility offers three restaurants, with one catering to Asian palates. Kitchen 888 is dubbed “a modern high-energy restaurant and noodle bar inspired by Asian street food.”

Bally’s continues to move forward with designing its permanent resort — a $1.74 billion undertaking — in River West at the Freedom Center.

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