Illinois Sports Betting Approved For Chicago Stadium Sportsbooks

Written By Pat Evans on December 16, 2021
Illinois sports betting

Illinois sports betting now can be offered via retail sportsbooks at stadiums in Chicago.

On Wednesday, the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance lifting a ban on stadium sportsbooks. The approval came without debate, despite several months of back-and-forth discussions on the topic.

Stadium sportsbooks are allowed under Illinois sports betting law, but it took more than two years for the city to make this necessary move. The approval comes despite some staunch opponents, including Rush Street Gaming co-founder Neil Bluhm.

Illinois sports team owners stand up

The city will impose a 2% tax on sports betting at the sportsbooks. Retail sportsbooks can open within a five-block radius of five Chicago facilities:

  • Wrigley Field (Cubs)
  • Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox)
  • Soldier Field (Bears)
  • United Center (Bulls, Blackhawks)
  • Wintrust Arena (Sky)

Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said a DraftKings Sportsbook at Wrigley Field would be ready by the opening of the 2023 MLB season. Ricketts also suggested the sportsbook will be more of a restaurant and bar than a “mini-casino.”

Concerns about Illinois sportsbooks at stadiums

Bluhm has spoken against sportsbooks at stadiums and online registration, which will expire by March 2022. Bluhm’s main thrust is the “mini-casinos” will keep revenue outside of Chicago area casinos, including a new casino development within the city.

Two of the five proposals for the new casino include Rush Street. The city will hold a public hearing on the proposals Thursday.

“The city could lose $10 million to $12 million per year and potentially make the new Chicago casino less successful if we are right,” Bluhm said at the Monday council committee meeting, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “Why take a chance like this? There’s a big risk with no reward. I urge you to vote no for this ordinance.”

Calling Bluhm’s bluff

According to a study by Union Gaming Analytics, the Chicago casino would lose no more than $4.3 million to the stadium sportsbooks.

Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, said Bluhm previously approached team owners wanting sportsbooks at the venues.

“What is perplexing is that Neil Bluhm, who does not want our buildings to have sportsbooks, met with us on several occasions seeking to operate sportsbooks in our buildings. And that was long after the casino was approved for Chicago,” Reinsdorf said at the council committee meeting Monday. “At that time, he had no assurance he would be chosen to operate a casino in Chicago and was not concerned that these books would, in any way, cannibalize whoever was chosen to operate the casino.

“It makes me wonder if he had gotten his way back then, would we be having this meeting today?”

Rush Street’s Rivers Casino and BetRivers Sportsbook are both partners of the Chicago Bears.

Chicago sportsbook revenue concerns

Last month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot voiced support of the ordinance, which went against standing opposition from Bluhm.

Lightfoot believes the new casino will help bolster the Chicago police and fire department pension funds. Those funds are close to insolvency and the Chicago casino revenue will contribute to them.

Other critics were concerned the 2% city tax rate was not enough, including Budget Committee Chairwoman Pat Dowell. She said at that tax rate, sports betting will bring “peanuts” to the city.

Lightfoot added the Chicago sports betting tax to help quell nerves about gambling cannibalization. Projections suggest the tax could generate up to $500,000 per year, which also will help the public safety pension funds.

Illinois sports betting continues to climb

Illinois hit record highs with $840.4 million in October bets, according to a state report this month. Sportsbooks also generated a record $48.3 million in sports betting revenue during the month.

DraftKings, which stands to gain from a prominent sportsbook location at Wrigley, led the market with $308.8 million in online handle.

The market as a whole could see increases from Illinois sportsbooks at Chicago stadiums. The expiration of the in-person registration rule will also likely boost monthly handle.

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Pat Evans

Pat Evans is a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based reporter covering sports business. Evans previously worked at Front Office Sports and the Grand Rapids Business Journal. He has authored two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer.

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