Chicago has a lot of things going for it to become a potential hub city for the NHL. However, an abundance of local sports betting options isn’t one of those selling points right now.
All of the casinos in Illinois remain closed, and there is just one online sportsbook accepting wagers in the state. Regardless, local officials are making their sales pitch to the hockey league.
Chicago’s chances to be an NHL hub city
When the NHL announced its format for the 2019-20 postseason, the plan included playing its tournament in two hub cities. One city would host teams from the Eastern Conference and the other, teams from the Western Conference.
Not only did the Chicago Blackhawks qualify for the expanded playoffs, but the NHL also announced the Windy City as one of the 10 finalists for the distinction of being one of those two hubs.
It’s still unclear when the NHL will announce its selections, although it is about to start training camps.
Until the NHL announces its selections, the onus is on officials in the contending cities to sway NHL brass their way. Officials in IL are active on that front.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and IL Rep. Mike Zalewski are prominent on the issue. Lightfoot stressed that Chicago has the necessary amenities to pull off the event.
Zalewski emphasized the steady decline of documented COVID-19 cases in the metropolitan area. For the Blackhawks, getting to play at home would be a tremendous convenience.
There is one thing the city can’t currently boast on a grand scale despite all its hotel space and sports culture: legal and live sports betting.
Status of legal wagering in Illinois
At this juncture, when retail sportsbooks in the Prairie State will reopen is also up in the air.
The Illinois Gaming Board has set protocols for when casinos and racetracks can reopen, but a date when the state government will allow those doors to reopen is still undetermined.
Via executive order, IL Gov. JB Pritzker did suspend the state’s in-person registration requirement for online sportsbooks.
That proved to be pivotal, as BetRivers Sportsbook launched its Android app and website on Thursday. At this point, that’s the only online sportsbook taking bets in Illinois.
Some of the other hub city candidates, namely Las Vegas and Pittsburgh, currently offer more options for online and retail wagering.
It’s also possible that IL casinos could reopen before the NHL postseason begins. The current tentative timeline doesn’t have the NHL starting to play until the middle of next month.
It’s uncertain whether the local sports betting scene will play into the NHL’s decision, and if it does, to what extent. Without fans at the arenas, Chicago may be low on the list.
It likely won’t hurt Chicago’s case if IL casinos reopen, however. Right now, it lags behind other options in terms of legal wagering available in the market. Officials in IL hope that won’t be a deterrent for the NHL.