Chicago Teams Threaten To Take Their Ball And Go Home Regarding Sportsbooks

Written By Derek Helling on October 27, 2019 - Last Updated on January 6, 2020
Sportsbook at Soldier Field

Sportsbooks at places like the United Center and Wrigley Field may eventually be a reality. That’s if Chicago sports teams find the terms agreeable, however.

The five Chicago-based teams in the four major North American professional sports leagues made those terms plain to the Illinois Gaming Board. In a joint letter, the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox stated their preferences.

What the Chicago sports teams have asked for in the letter

In the letter, the five teams expressed interest in operating sportsbooks at Guaranteed Rate Field (White Sox), Soldier Field (Bears), United Center (Blackhawks and Bulls) and Wrigley Field (Cubs). They said that interest applies only if the price is right, however.

Among the requests of the IGB are protections for the teams’ sportsbooks and perhaps an amended price. The letter stressed the former more than the latter, however.

The first protection the teams are insisting upon is strict enforcement of a part of the new law legalizing sports betting. The law gives the teams the exclusive right to operate or contract with a third party to operate a sportsbook within a five-block radius of their venues.

Not only should that apply to retail sportsbooks, the letter argues, but mobile betting as well. If that were to become the case, fans within five blocks of one of those venues would be limited to using only the sportsbook app licensed by the appropriate team.

That isn’t the only request, however. The teams want other assurances before they invest in a sportsbook operation.

Sportsbook license cost playing a role

One of the main reasons the teams insist on the IGB enforcing their exclusivity zones is the cost of a sportsbook license. They have a legitimate beef.

A license costs $10 million to acquire. The renewal fees aren’t as high, but that’s a significant startup cost.

A license for a sportsbook operated by a professional team in Washington, D.C., costs just 5% as much. While it’s true the sportsbooks at the stadiums would have a captive and interested audience, that’s a hefty price tag nonetheless.

The teams also ask in the letter that the IGB ban competitors’ advertising within the five-block radius. The letter conveys concern about wagers placed with the Illinois Lottery within the radius as well.

To support the teams’ arguments, the letter refers to a recent study. That study determined a Chicago casino would be fiscally insolvent due to high tax rates.

The teams argue the license fee has the same effect unless the IGB agrees to their demands. And the teams do hold a bit of leverage in the situation.

Why the state may need the teams more than vice versa

A big part of the reason Illinois legalized sports betting was to increase revenue from gaming taxes. That won’t occur, at least not to the extent it could, if these Chicago teams don’t open up the sportsbooks the law allows them to.

If the teams stick to their guns and refuse to invest in sportsbooks until their demands are met, that could force the state to compromise on the license fee. Strictly enforcing the five-block radius would be important as well.

The actual implementation of legal sports betting in Illinois is still months away. In order for it to become reality, this is one matter that has to be settled.

Derek Helling Avatar
Written by
Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

View all posts by Derek Helling
Privacy Policy