The future of sports betting in Chicago became a bit clearer Monday, thanks to the city council’s Committee on Zoning and Licensing.
The committee voted Monday to advance the sports betting ordinance to the council floor, allowing them to vote on whether sports venues in the city’s limits should be allowed to operate retail sportsbooks on their premises.
Monday’s motion cleared after language was added into the ordinance that promised to “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity when issuing primary sports licenses,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The motion to allow Illinois sportsbooks to extend into Chicago, with the addition of a 2% tax within the city’s limits, cleared the committee by a vote of 19-7.
Six days earlier the same committee tabled the ordinance over concerns about sports betting’s impact on the city’s Black and Hispanic populace.
The full council will vote on whether to revoke Chicago’s ban on sports betting during its regularly scheduled meeting at 10 a.m. Central time Wednesday.
How We Got to Wednesday’s City Council Vote
The proposed sports betting plan was introduced earlier this year, drawing praise from professional sports franchise owners and derision from Rush Street Interactive Chairman Neil Bluhm.
Bluhm has objected to the Windy City letting sports teams open retail facilities in Chicago, arguing that the sportsbooks would have a negative impact on a proposed casino in the city limits.
There also was consternation from several aldermen about the impact the proposed sportsbooks would have on minority-majority neighborhoods in the city during the council’s previous meeting Dec. 7.
The council was on the fence about whether Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed 2% tax rate was high enough to warrant the financial hit the city’s future casino could take from increased competition. Five bids have been submitted, including two by Rush Street Gaming, for a casino inside the city limits, with a decision on the winning bid expected early next year.
One alderman favoring both the sports betting tax and in-stadium sportsbooks was Walter Burnett, who said during the Dec. 7 meeting the revenues from retail sportsbooks would provide immediate financial relief for the city.
“A bird in the hand is better than two birds in the bush,” Burnett said. “We will start getting money immediately with the sportsbook facilities, rather than waiting on a casino to be built. We still have a way to go until these things get built.
“You could see from a lot of folks who got on and testified today, a lot of them benefit from these institutions. They've been doing things in our communities for over 30 years. Why shouldn't we help them to be a part of this program instead of some outside people who haven't been doing anything in our city?”
What Was Said During Monday’s Meeting
During Monday’s council meeting, Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts told the council his staff is ready to get the ball rolling on the team’s $100 million pact with DraftKings Sportsbook.
The team’s proposed sportsbook at Wrigley Field, to be operated by DraftKings, would be the first in-stadium facility in MLB — the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Caesars Sportsbook facility will be in a former restaurant adjacent to the ballpark’s main entrance.
"With your approval of this ordinance, construction would begin immediately with the aim of opening a restaurant with a sportsbook in time for the 2023 season. This will create construction jobs and revenues now and permanent jobs in just over a year," Ricketts said.
"… This is not a casino or even a mini-casino. It’s a sports bar-restaurant. … It only allows for fans who wish to place a wager to have a window to do so. I expect many fans will come to the sportsbook and never place a bet," he said.
Monday’s meeting was the rare opportunity for the Cubs and White Sox to come together, as Jerry Reinsdorf — who serves as chairman of the Sox and Chicago Bulls — said opposition to expanded Illinois gambling in the form of Chicago sportsbooks from people like Bluhm is disingenuous.
"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 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?"
Bluhm, on the other hand, told the council the five sports stadium sportsbooks — which are slated to be built at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena — could ultimately lead to the city losing between $10-and-$12 million per year in tax revenue.
"Why take a chance like this? There’s a big risk with no reward,” Bluhm told the committee. “I urge you to vote no for this ordinance."