Chicago Sky Owner Lays Into Ethics Board Over $5,000 Fine Related To Sports Betting Lobbying

Written By Joe Boozell on September 21, 2021

The Chicago Sky recently received a $5,000 fine because WNBA team owner Michael Alter lobbied Mayor Lori Lightfoot without registering. Alter was lobbying for the Sky to get a sports betting license.

The team was not included in the 2019 Sports Wagering Act. Other Chicago franchises, such as the Bears, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, are able to apply for a license. The Sky play their home games at Wintrust Arena, which is also the home of the DePaul Blue Demons.

Alter reached out to Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman in December. He was seeking the mayor’s help in securing a license.

Alter wrote in the email, via the Chicago Tribune:

“I am writing you now to formally get the mayor’s support for pending legislation that will — FINALLY — provide an opportunity for the sky to get a gaming license. As you know from our previous conversation, in the big gaming bill passed in (June) 2019, all the men’s professional teams were (given) the right to buy a license. The sky was not included.”

Alter has been trying to get the law changed since it passed. He also said in the email:

“It would be extremely helpful if the mayor would lend her ‘vocal’ and visible support to our efforts by agreeing to add her name as a supporter to this amendment. If you could help facilitate this quickly, I would be enormously grateful.”

Alter had contacted Lightfoot about this issue previously, and she asked him to step aside in an effort to make Chicago casino passage easier.

Alter complied then, but is trying to “formally rally support now to create the necessary momentum.”

What the Chicago ethics board says

For his efforts, he received a $5,000 fine from the Chicago Board of Ethics. Rules can be found on Page 34 of the Governmental Ethics Ordinance code:

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Alter warns of ‘dangerous precedent’

Alter strongly disagrees with the fine. He issued the following statement on the ruling:

“Most importantly, the board’s overly broad reading of the ordinance sets an extremely dangerous precedent: It makes suspect any and every outreach by a business owner or CEO of a company, small or large, who speaks to elected city officials to promote their business interests. This would have a chilling effect on the essential dialogue between business leaders and elected officials and lead to the absurd conclusion that every business owner and CEO must register as a lobbyist to engage with their elected leaders.”

He also noted that Lightfoot has no authority over the state legislature.

In response, the ethics board executive director Steve Berlin issued a statement. He says the issue comes down to transparency:

“Lobbying laws, in particular, Chicago’s, are about transparency, and informing the public about who is trying to influence government decisions and actions — not about stifling or thwarting communication between city officials and members of the business or nonprofit community. Rather than have a ‘chilling effect,’ all one needs to do is register, and then, as required in the annual registration and quarterly activity reports, tell the public about the contact and lobbying activity. That is not chilling — it’s just good government.”

Lobbyists are required to register with the city. However, this puts Lightfoot in a tough spot, as Alter’s position is politically popular. It’s also one that she agrees with.

Latest on Chicago stadium sportsbooks

Even though in-stadium sportsbooks in Illinois are legal, Chicago is still not on board.

That’s obviously significant, considering how many professional sports teams there are in Chicago.

However, local officials are taking steps to lift the city’s sports betting ban. Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) introduced an ordinance this summer that would do so.

All the major Chicago pro sports franchises want sports betting. John R. Daley, the son of Cook County commissioner John Daley and a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is lobbying for the cause on behalf of the White Sox. 

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Joe Boozell

Joe Boozell has also been a college sports writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FoxSports.com and NBA.com. Growing up, Boozell squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene ... you can imagine how that went.

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