Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not buying the idea that stadium retail sportsbooks would eat into casino revenue.
The city is finally making progress on its casino license project, as Chicago now has five bids to choose from. Companies will pitch their plans to the public in mid-December.
One of those companies is Rush Street Gaming, which was co-founded by Neil Bluhm. Bluhm recently came out against Chicago stadium sportsbooks, believing there is too much customer overlap. He said:
“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.”
Earlier this week, Lightfoot fired back. She said via the Chicago Sun-Times:
“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.”
“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.”
The Sports Wagering Act allows for Illinois sporting venues to apply for sports betting licenses. Lightfoot has publicly supported the idea, but the city of Chicago still needs to lift its sports betting ban.
The city hopes to choose a Chicago casino license winner in the first quarter of 2022. Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming is responsible for two of the five bids.
So to see the Lightfoot and Bluhm disagreeing in public is notable.
Chicago stadium sportsbooks background
While Chicago would not be the first city to have stadium sportsbooks, it would be one of the first in the US. The idea was included in 2019 gaming expansion legislation.
The city needs to pass an ordinance to make stadium sportsbooks a reality, and Alderman Walter Burnett introduced one in July. The Chicago Cubs already have a deal with DraftKings to build a sportsbook at Wrigley Field. We also know that the United Center wants to open a retail sportsbook, though it does not yet have an official partner.
Eventually, that partner will likely be FanDuel.
Bluhm, a billionaire who holds plenty of sway in the Illinois gaming industry, opposes stadium sportsbooks. What happens next will in part be a test of just how much influence he has.
Rush Street has competition for downtown casino
Bally’s and Hard Rock also submitted bids for the Chicago casino license. Bally’s submitted two bids, and it is considered the most serious threat to Rush Street landing the license.
While Hard Rock still has a chance, its proposal appears to be more far-fetched than the other four.
Could Bluhm and Lightfoot publicly butting heads over a key issue increase Bally’s chances of landing the license?
The relationship between the mayor’s office and the Bluhm family is nuanced. Not too long ago, some thought Rush Street was a shoo-in for the license because of the strong ties.
Leslie Bluhm, daughter of Neil, is one of Lightfoot’s biggest political donors. There was previous speculation that nobody else would bid for the license due to Rush Street’s perceived inside track.
Lightfoot even felt the need to address “hometown favorites” this summer. She said then:
“There’s a little conversation about this, I’m told. This RFP (Request for Proposals) is wide open. There are no hometown favorites. We want to make sure we get the best-in-class opportunities for anyone across the country who understands the value of being in a city like Chicago.”
It’s going to be fascinating to see how the Chicago casino process unfolds.