Debate Over Chicago Sports Betting Heating Up

In public hearings earlier this week in Chicago, officials and interested parties expressed their opinions on lifting the ban on sports betting within the city. No consensus has been met, but it appears that city officials believe lifting the ban would be good for the long-term success of sports betting in the Windy City.

Currently, sports betting is legal in Illinois but banned in the city of Chicago, except at licensed casinos. The City Council would need to vote to approve an ordinance allowing sports betting in Chicago. That could lead to sports teams hosting sportsbooks at their venues, which is legal under state law. The Bears and the Blackhawks have expressed a desire to have a retail sportsbook at their venues or to have areas around the stadiums that allow for sports betting via mobile sportsbook apps.

A prior proposal was made to the City Council to allow sports betting at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center, and Wintrust Arena. That authorization would permit legal sports betting in a “permanent building or structure located within a five-block radius” of the Chicago-based stadiums.

The mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, favors that move and thinks it could be approved as early as December.

Also Read: New legislation clears path for mobile sportsbook registration in Illinois

Rush Street Gaming Opposed to Lift of Ban

At least one developer is opposed to lifting the ban on sports betting in Chicago. Neil Bluhm spoke out against the measure, citing threats to the viability of casino gaming in the city.

Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming company is one of two gaming groups with plans to build a casino within the city limits of Chicago.

According to Bluhm, sportsbooks at the Chicago stadiums would lower the overall sports betting handle for casinos by as much as 10 percent (or $88 million annually in tax revenue). He also believes it would impact his casino business.

“[A lift of the sports betting ban in the city would] mean that less sports bettors will walk around the casino and play slots and table games and less people go to the restaurants at the casino if they can also be betting sports at the same time at the stadium,” Bluhm told his investors during a call this week.

In all, Bluhm contends that overall gaming revenue at casinos would drop by $61 million if stadium sports betting is allowed in Chicago.

Pension Funds Tied To Issue of Gaming Revenue in Chicago

Complicating the issue is money. Portions of any revenue from future Chicago casinos would be allotted to pay for police and fire pension funds. That makes the topic a sticky one for politicians who fear losing support from those public workers and other union loyalists.

“I wouldn’t allow something to move forward that felt like it was gonna undermine that incredibly important opportunity,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week.

What’s Next for Sports Stadium Betting in Chicago?

Although the Chicago City Council does not have a scheduled meeting for December, there is speculation that it could meet this month and vote on a proposal to allow sports betting at stadiums and professional sports venues in the city.

Those in favor of sportsbooks at sports stadiums in Chicago include a list of powerful organizations and people in the city, including the Blackhawks, the Bears, officials from the United Center, ownership of the Chicago White Sox John R. Daley, son of Cook County Commissioner John Daley and nephew of former Chicago mayor Richard Daley.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.