September 21, 2023

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Illinois allows felons to apply for non-gaming jobs at casinos

3 min read
Illinois allows felons to apply for non-gaming jobs at casinos

With Bally’s Chicago likely weeks away from opening its temporary casino at Medinah Temple, the talent pool for filling a variety of nongaming positions just got larger.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Friday allowing convicted felons to apply for hospitality positions at the state’s soon-to-be 14 casinos. Previously under state law, anyone with a felony conviction was ineligible to work at a casino in any position.

“Here in the Land of Lincoln, we believe that people deserve second chances — and that includes the formerly incarcerated and those who have been convicted of a felony,” Pritzker said in a news release.

The legislation, which was supported by unions, casino companies and the Illinois Gaming Board, removes automatic disqualification for nongaming positions such as restaurant staff, maintenance and housekeeping. Qualified applicants will be considered for an occupational license on a case-by-case basis, weighing everything from the circumstances of the crime to evidence of rehabilitation.

Convicted felons are still ineligible to hold a gaming position at a casino, such as a dealer.

“This law preserves the IGB’s necessary ability to protect the integrity of Illinois gaming while providing an opportunity for gainful employment in nongaming casino positions to applicants with prior convictions,” Gaming Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said in the release.

The change comes as Bally’s Chicago is staffing up in preparation to open its temporary casino at Medinah Temple in River North. The target date, which has been pushed back several months, is now slated for September, the casino company said during its second quarter earnings call last week.

Rhode Island-based Bally’s won a heated competition last year to build a $1.74 billion casino at the 30-acre site of the Chicago Tribune printing plant in River West, which is expected to open in 2026. The historic Medinah Temple will serve as a temporary casino for up to three years.

In May, Bally’s Chicago put out a help wanted sign, looking to hire more than 700 positions — everything from card dealers and security to housekeeping and marketing — for the temporary casino. Bally’s said Friday the new legislation will help it find qualified applicants for the state’s largest casino and keep its hiring commitments to the city.

“At Bally’s, we strongly believe that the gaming industry can provide deserving, qualified individuals with gainful employment and a compelling career path,” George Papanier, president of Bally’s, said in the release. “This belief is embedded in our community-first policy, which focuses on generating substantial employment opportunities in the communities in which we operate.”

As part of the casino application process, Bally’s agreed to create “well-paying union jobs” and hire 50% of the projected 3,000 employees at the permanent facility from within Chicago.

Unite Here Local 1, which represents hospitality workers in Chicago, praised the new law Friday.

“Our union has worked hard to ensure that hospitality workers at Illinois casinos can have a path to good jobs,” Karen Kent, president of Unite Here Local 1, said in the joint release. “But our work is incomplete if so many of our friends, our neighbors, beloved members of our families and our communities, are forever locked out of these jobs because of a prior conviction. Today, we’re giving people hope for a second chance.”

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