It appears Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is on board with lifting the Windy City’s ban on sports betting.
That’s the takeaway from the mayor’s interview with the Chicago Sun-Times this week, where Lightfoot said she was confident the city council will lift the ban this month and allow professional sports venues — such as Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena — to build retail sportsbooks on-site.
Lightfoot said she’s confident this expansion of Illinois sports betting, which was legalized by the state’s legislature in 2019, would not be detrimental to any of the region’s casinos. That’s crucial given the financial impact gaming revenue has on the city’s budget.
“There’s been some dire warnings that have been issued by some who … already use sportsbooks at their own casinos and who are trying to kill sportsbooks here in Chicago. They have not put forth any convincing evidence that … somehow it’s gonna cannibalize a casino here in Chicago. ... We’ve seen zero indication that that’s the case,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times.
“We’ve heard ... a lot of talk by people who would profit by not allowing the sports teams to have a sportsbook of their own. But talk is talk. Facts and data — that’s what I’m about.”
What to Know About Chicago’s Casino Situation
The city of Chicago was given a single casino license as part of the legislature’s 2019 Illinois gambling expansion, with revenues from that location going toward covering the city’s police and fire department pension plans, which are on the verge of insolvency, per the Sun-Times.
The city council is currently vetting finalists for a downtown Chicago casino-resort, in Bally’s Illinois, HR Chicago, LLC, Rivers Chicago at McCormick, LLC, and Rivers 78 Gaming, LLC. The winning bid is expected to be announced in early 2022.
Bally’s Illinois was the lone applicant that would operate its own casino, with Hard Rock International running HR Chicago’s bid.
Rush Street Gaming would operate the Rivers Chicago at McCormick property and the Rivers 78 Gaming location.
Where Chicago Area Casino Projects Stand
The same legislation that allowed for a city of Chicago casino license also allowed for the building of a casino in the city’s southern suburbs. That process is down to two finalists, with the winning bid to be selected next year.
The south suburbs location finalists are Wind Creek Hospitality (a subsidiary of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians) and South Suburban Development, LLC (a consortium led by Hinsdale businessman Robert Miller and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma).
That location would either be located near Homewood and East Hazel Crest (Wind Creek Hospitality) or in Matteson (South Suburban Development LLC). Illinois plans on adding six casinos in the coming year, bringing the state’s total to 16.
Sports betting in Illinois received a boost last month, when the state’s General Assembly passed a bill that would lift in-person registration by no later than March 5, 2022.
Sports Betting ‘Is in Our DNA and Blood System’
She said adding sportsbooks to sports venues in the city will only bolster the marketplace and not depreciate the casino market’s potential in the region. DraftKings and the Chicago Cubs have been laying the groundwork for a sportsbook at Wrigley Field for more than a year.
Lightfoot’s comments come less than a month after casino magnate Neil Bluhm, who is the chairman of Rush Street Gaming, pitched a plan to block sports betting in Chicago to the city council — arguing Chicago’s new casino will be negatively impacted financially by competition from sportsbooks at professional stadiums.
“Of course, there will be some impact (on a Chicago casino). There’s never been any suggestion that it won’t impact it. The reality is, you can’t watch a sporting event now without seeing an ad for FanDuel … or DraftKings. … Sportsbook is in our DNA and blood system now in the city of Chicago and really across the country where it’s legal,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times.
“So, the question is, how do we manage this in a way that benefits Chicago taxpayers? That’s really the only question.”