IL Lawmaker Proposes Amendment To Allow Women’s Pro Teams To Run Sportsbooks

Posted on November 17, 2020 - Last Updated on February 22, 2021

Illinois sports teams’ sportsbooks may eventually become a bigger deal in 2021. The Chicago Bandits, Chicago Red Stars and Chicago Sky could be next to the sports betting table if a new bill becomes law in the Prairie State.

On Tuesday, IL Rep. Lamont Robinson Jr. filed HB 5812. It’s an amendment to the Sports Wagering Act, which could open doors for women’s professional sports teams.

Current state of Illinois sports teams’ sportsbooks

As of right now, the Chicago Cubs are the only Illinois sports team with plans to get into the sports betting biz. The MLB franchise has plans to open a sportsbook at Wrigley Field.

The Ricketts family, who owns the Cubs and Wrigley Field, made a deal with DraftKings to build a retail sportsbook in or near the Friendly Confines.

Currently, IL law says that deed holders of venues with capacities of at least 17,000 can apply for master licenses. That means the owners of Guaranteed Rate Field, SeatGeek Stadium, Soldier Field, and the United Center are eligible to operate sportsbooks.

Furthermore, that means the Chicago Blackhawks and the Chicago Bulls could apply, as they are joint owners of the United Center. The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA) could apply as the owner of either Guaranteed Rate Field or Soldier Field, as it owns both.

To follow the Cubs’ lead, the Chicago Bears and the White Sox would have to take ownership of their venues. Technically, the ISFA could apply for a license for both/either venues and then contract with the Bears or White Sox to operate the sportsbook.

The same situation applies when talking about SeatGeek Stadium, the home of the Red Stars. The stadium’s capacity is large enough to qualify, but the Village of Bridgeview owns the venue, not the soccer club.

The venues where the Bandits and Chicago Sky play don’t have the capacity to qualify; however, Robinson’s bill would make that a moot point for those franchises.

What would HB 5812 do if it becomes law?

Essentially, the amendment would expand the list of parties eligible to apply for a sports betting master license. Any professional women’s sports team “that has been in existence for at least 10 years before the effective date of this amendatory act” would become eligible.

 

The bill also includes a requirement for the IL Gaming Board to “actively seek to achieve racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity when issuing the master sports wagering license.” The bill goes on to put on an onus on the IGB to “encourage minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and businesses owned by persons with disabilities to apply for licensure.”

The bill sets the initial license fee at 5% of the team’s adjusted gross receipts from the preceding year or $10 million, whichever is lesser. After approval, the license would be good for four years. Renewal would cost $1 million for each four-year period.

Another key clause from this bill is the recurring phrase “the professional women’s sports team’s or its designee.” That pivotal language may be the key to making this hypothetical situation a reality.

Another path into IL for sportsbook operators

For the Bandits, Red Stars and Sky, running a sportsbook may not be their greatest area of expertise. However, an IL master license would give them an attractive asset.

Anyone of these franchises could contract with a sportsbook operator. That might be a path into what’s become the fourth-biggest sports betting market in the country.

Additionally, it could be cheaper than the $20 million price tag of one of the state’s three online-only licenses. What’s more, an operator, such as BetMGM IL, wouldn’t have to wait until late next year to apply.

Right now, HB 5812 is in the IL House Rules Committee. Currently, that committee hasn’t scheduled any hearings. With the current session soon to end, that probably won’t change. It’s too early to tell whether the bill will pass as it is or in a different form in the next session.

If eventually enacted in its current form, sportsbooks at Parkway Bank Sports Complex and Wintrust Arena might become a reality. Additionally, the IGB would have some new considerations for its licensing process.

Photo by Paul Beaty / AP
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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