BREAKING: Chicago City Council Lifts Sports Betting Ban, Which Means Stadium Sportsbooks Are A Go

Written By Joe Boozell on December 15, 2021 - Last Updated on December 20, 2021

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday voted to lift the city’s sports betting ban, meaning retail sportsbooks are coming to Chicago stadiums.

There will also be a 2% tax on sports betting revenue.

The 2019 Sports Wagering Act allows for stadium sportsbooks in Illinois. However, Chicago had a sports betting ban in effect, and it needed to be removed in order to proceed.

Ald. Walter Burnett’s ordinance passed at Wednesday’s meeting. At Monday’s Zoning and License meeting, several Chicago sports franchise owners — Tom Ricketts (Cubs), Rocky Wirtz (Blackhawks) and Jerry Reinsdorf (Bulls, White Sox) spoke on behalf of stadium betting.

Ricketts also spoke on Wednesday. The Cubs already have a deal in place with DraftKings to build a sportsbook at Wrigley Field.

This process hasn’t exactly gone off without a hitch, with some high-profile officials and business owners publicly sniping back and forth.

Here’s how we got to this point and what the future will look like for Chicago sporting venues.

Bluhm was most vocal critic of Chicago sports betting at stadiums

Neil Bluhm, the co-founder of Rush Street Gaming, adamantly opposed Chicago stadium betting. Rush Street is responsible for two of the city’s five casino bids, and Bluhm did not want the competition from sporting venues.

Bluhm said in November:

“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.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has long supported Chicago stadium wagering. She replied to Bluhm’s comments:

“There’s been some dire warnings that have been issued by some who … already use sportsbook at their own casinos and who are trying to kill sportsbook here in Chicago. They have not put forth any convincing evidence that … somehow it’s gonna cannibalize a casino here in Chicago. … We’ve seen zero indication that that’s the case.”

And added:

“We’ve heard … a lot of talk by people who would profit by not allowing the sports teams to have a sportsbook of their own. But talk is talk. Facts and data — that’s what I’m about.”

At Monday’s meeting, Reinsdorf shared private conversations with Bluhm and questioned his motives. The Bulls and White Sox owner said:

“What is perplexing is that Neil Bluhm, who does not want our buildings to have sportsbooks, met with us on several occasions seeking to operate sportsbooks in our buildings. And that was long after the casino was approved for Chicago.”

He continued:

“At that time, he had no assurance he would be chosen to operate a casino in Chicago and was not concerned that these books would, in any way, cannibalize whoever was chosen to operate the casino. It makes me wonder if he had gotten his way back then, would we be having this meeting today?”

Bluhm asserted that the city would be opening five “mini-casinos” but did not dispute Reinsdorf’s claim. Ricketts said a sportsbook would be more of “a sports bar-restaurant” and speculated that many people will attend them without betting.

What does the future hold?

Now that the ordinance has passed, the following venues can offer retail sports betting:

  • Wrigley Field
  • Guaranteed Rate Field
  • United Center
  • Soldier Field
  • Wintrust Arena

Ricketts said that they will begin constructing their sportsbook with DraftKings immediately with hopes that it will open before the 2023 season.

None of the other arenas have official partnerships. But it won’t be surprising to see some new deals in the near future.

The Bulls and White Sox have heavy FanDuel branding at their games, which is worth noting. However, the Bulls and Blackhawks share the United Center.

It appears likely that at some point, four of these five venues will offer retail sports betting. Soldier Field is a mystery, as the Bears might move to Arlington Heights.

As for the financial implications, Bluhm said:

“The city could lose $10 million to $12 million per year and potentially make the new Chicago casino less successful if we are right.”

The city estimates that these sportsbooks will bring in just $400,000-$500,000 in revenue each year. With that said, this is a fairly new concept that is hard to project accurately.

Regardless of who’s right, sports wagering is coming to Chicago stadiums. The Illinois sports betting market is booming, and the best is yet to come.

Photo by AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
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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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