It appears a major sticking point in Chicago’s drive to expand sports betting in Illinois is the clout of Rush Street Gaming Chairman Neil Bluhm.
Bluhm, whose company operates Rivers Casino in neighboring Des Plaines, told Chicago’s City Council on Monday the city’s drive to end its ban on sports betting inside city limits would be devastating for the state’s marketplace, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
His statements come a week after Rush Street Gaming was named as a finalist to build a casino within the Windy City, in River Chicago at McCormick and the Rivers 78 Gaming location.
Bluhm made the case during a joint meeting of the zoning and license committees that the expansion of sports betting in Chicago would be detrimental to the city’s casino and city revenues.
The casino magnate told council members ending the city’s ban on sports betting would drain up to $88 million from the city’s coffers, no matter which company eventually is chosen to operate a casino-resort in Chicago.
“The person who gambles on sports is very likely a gambler who also bets on tables and slot machines. It’s 20% of our business. ... This isn’t some hypothetical discussion,” Bluhm said, per the Sun-Times.
Bluhm’s Case a Moot Point
Brendan Bussmann, who is a partner and director of global affairs for Global Market Advisors, a consulting firm that specializes in the gaming market, told IllinoisBet.com that Bluhm’s efforts are virtually inconsequential, given the lack of urgency on the city’s part to get a casino built.
“The Illinois gaming market continues be a tug of war between all of the parties involved,” Bussmann said in an email. “We first saw this with mobile registration that went back and forth during the pandemic. That issue is now set to be resolved next spring. This is just another food fight between stakeholders in the market trying to capture market share. The ban does nothing other than kick the can down the road for market.”
Bussmann added Chicago’s drive to allow city-based sports teams, such as the Chicago Cubs and Bulls, to operate retail sportsbooks in their stadiums/arenas was a major part of the state’s 2019 gaming law update. DraftKings and the Chicago Cubs are currently working to get approvals to build a sportsbook at Wrigley Field.
Bussmann said the legislation has failed to deliver prompt resolution to the conflict between sports team owners and casino magnates, however, thanks to a series of issues surrounding the Illinois Gaming Board’s licensing process.
One such issue has been the back-and-forth in the state regarding the legality of mobile registration for sportsbooks, which was granted via an executive order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker during the pandemic, only to lapse earlier this year.
The state assembly has taken on the subject, with House Bill 3136 setting a date of March 5, 2022, for the lifting of in-person sportsbook registration.
For Bussmann, the ability to take on the myriad delays that have backed up the sports betting process is central to having a top-notch marketplace in the Land of Lincoln, with professional sports teams and casinos being part of the final product.
“In the intent of the 2019 legislation, stadiums were envisioned to be sports betting outlets,” Bussmann said. “It’s been one of many delays in the approval process as the IGB has dealt with a host of licensing conundrums with that piece of legislation and delays for a host of reasons.
“Open markets are best for the consumer. This is for mobile registration, and it’s for these stadium venues based off the original legislation.”
Chicago Sports Betting: Kill or Cure?
Bluhm, on the other hand, argued to the council that allowing sports teams and casinos to offer retail sports betting would be a recipe for economic disaster when it comes to expanding Illinois gambling into Chicago.
“For almost 20 years, the city has tried to get a casino. Now, when you finally can have one, why would you create several competitors when the city gets no revenue from sports betting?” Bluhm said, per the Sun-Times.
“What is more important — that the city have a great casino or the sports teams have a retail sports betting book? ... This is not good for the city. It’s gonna cost them a lot of money.”
Bussmann took Bluhm’s assertion to task, saying Chicago is nowhere close to having a casino in its city limits.
He added that, even if it does come sooner than later, the market will benefit from greater competition in the long run.
“While Mayor Lightfoot has put the recommendation on a fast track, we are still years away from a Chicago casino,” Bussmann said. “I drive into the cities and see signs everywhere for sports betting. Having a retail sportsbook at a stadium is not going to kill a downtown Chicago casino. The tax rate is 10 times the bigger issue.”