WBEZ has obtained emails that show a rift between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Park District (CPD) over sports betting at Soldier Field.
The park district owns Soldier Field.
According to the emails, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips wanted to create a “sports betting lounge” at the stadium. But his proposal did not gain any traction.
While the lounge would not have been an actual Illinois sportsbook; however, the vision was to have ambassadors working to help people bet online. Multiple TVs streaming live NFL games on Sundays would create a “sportsbook feel.”
At the time of the pitch, it seemed the NFL banned in-stadium sportsbooks, but the Arizona Cardinals now have an agreement for an in-stadium sportsbook.
The Bears, according to Phillips’ emails, were interested because of the potential advertising revenue. And Phillips offered the CPD a 20% cut.
But CPD superintendent Michael Kelly responded to the pitch with:
“At this time, it would not be productive to pursue the opportunities outlined in your letter. Additionally, my team is working on a comprehensive design for the park and open space adjacent to the north end of Soldier Field. We will certainly consider your thoughts and opinions at the appropriate time as the project moves forward.”
Phillips responded by accusing the CPD of not engaging in “good faith” discussions, writing:
“It is disappointing that it is over a year since we reached out to you and you have refused to engage in good faith discussions about an opportunity that generates revenue for the CPD while leveraging the Chicago Bears brand.”
Just two weeks after writing that email, the Bears announced they had submitted an offer to buy Arlington International Racecourse.
Bears say Arlington Park offer is unrelated
A Bears spokesperson told WBEZ that the Bears’ Arlington Park pursuit is “completely unrelated” to the sports betting disagreement.
However, the Bears have feuded with the CPD for a long time. Structural improvements and leases are typically the topics of frustration, and the team has threatened to leave before.
While the CPD’s sports betting resistance may not be the direct reason why the team is looking to move, it’s fair to wonder whether or not the history of conflict came to a head over the summer.
And it’s looking like the Bears are a serious contender to land at Arlington Park.
Roy Arnold, the former president of Arlington International Racecourse, said his group bid $120 million for the track — but he believes Churchill Downs won’t sell the land to anyone who wants to continue horse racing or casino gambling.
The Bears fit that mold. Even if they are Churchill Downs’ choice and wind up offering retail sports betting, that’s a far cry from a competitive “racino.”
Right now, there aren’t any retail sportsbooks at Chicago stadiums. That’s despite the Sports Wagering Act allowing Illinois sporting venues to have sportsbooks.
Which is why Chicago teams are lobbying to get the city on board.
Can Daley help make Chicago stadium sportsbooks happen?
John R. Daley, the son of Cook County commissioner John Daley and a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is lobbying on behalf of the White Sox to push the Chicago City Council to allow sports wagering at stadiums.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears, Cubs, Blackhawks and Bulls are also in favor.
When asked why Daley was hired, the White Sox said in a statement:
“John is well-respected in his field, is smart and experienced. In this particular case, all of the teams, their executives and their lobbyists have been working together jointly toward a common goal of getting this one ordinance passed. The governor wants it. The Legislature supports it, as does the mayor. And we believe the majority of the city council does as well.
Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) introduced an ordinance in July that would lift the sports betting ban in Chicago.
Under his proposal, the city would charge $50,000 for a license and $25,000 for annual renewal. That is on top of Illinois Gaming Board fees.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the time:
“First of all, sports (betting) is the law of our state. That got passed by the General Assembly in 2019. I support that law. No, I do not believe that it will undercut our efforts on a future casino and we’re gonna make sure that it doesn’t.”