The 2019 Sports Wagering Act legalized in-stadium sportsbooks in Illinois, but the city of Chicago is not yet on board.
Neither is Rush Street Gaming co-founder Neil Bluhm. Rush Street is involved in submitting two Chicago casino bids, and there is apparently fear of competition.
In a joint meeting with the zoning and license committees, Bluhm claimed that Chicago casino revenue would drop by $61 million annually with stadium betting.
Bluhm is a powerful voice in the Illinois gaming industry, and his opinion could carry a good deal of weight.
Why Bluhm believes stadium sportsbooks would hurt casino
It’s not that Bluhm doesn’t want sportsbooks to be allowed inside the city, but it comes down to the competition and revenue.
Rush Street has bid on the Chicago casino license. Bluhm believes that retail sportsbook customers overlap, whether it’s at a stadium or a casino.
Rush Street owns a minority stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, which is affiliated with BetRivers Sportsbook.
It’s clear that the casino-minded Bluhm wants legal sports betting in Chicago. With that said, he doesn’t want the revenue taken away from a casino. If the sportsbook stadium ordinance passes in Chicago, the Rush Street co-founder would lose money from the casino gambling side.
In an article by the Chicago Sun-Times, Bluhm was quoted in a joint meeting of the zoning and license committees, saying:
“The person who gambles on sports is very likley a gambler who also bets on tables and slot machines. It’s 20% of our business… this isn’t some hypothetical discussion.”
Being competitive is part of gaming life. However, Bluhm doesn’t want to see the revenue that his company could gain from a sportsbook and casino in Chicago go directly to a stadium sportsbook instead.
Bally’s and Hard Rock also submitted Chicago casino bids. We have yet to hear either oppose in-stadium sports betting.
The marketing ripple effect
There are currently six online sportsbooks in Illinois. Competition is fierce to gain Illinois bettors’ attention, and sportsbooks spend millions on ads and promos.
Sports stadiums like Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field and the United Center draw tens of thousands of fans at a time, and plenty of them might have action on the game they’re attending. With tens of thousands of people at a given event, that can turn gamblers and their money away from a casino sportsbook.
As this industry keeps growing and growing, the state might see stadium sportsbooks as an option. If the ordinance passes, Bluhm and his Rush Street staff will have to emphasize the marketing and casino promotions to steer the traffic back to his casinos and sportsbooks.
That, of course, would cost more money. While one can debate the merits of Bluhm’s argument, his logic is clear.
Are stadium sportsbooks a real possibility? Yes. In fact, they are legal in Illinois.
But just like anything in this industry, money is going to play a significant role.