New NFL CBA Makes Soldier Field Betting Lounge More Inevitable

Posted on March 24, 2020

Although it may not happen in the 2020 NFL season, the possibility of a Soldier Field sportsbook looks much more inevitable. That’s because of the new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the National Football League Players Association.

The players and owners ratified the new CBA last week. Among its many tenets is the approval of such spaces at NFL venues.

Why will there be a Soldier Field sportsbook?

Simply put, it’s all about the money. Like any other brick-and-mortar business, the stadium strives to monetize every square foot of its space.

Bringing in a sportsbook would mean new revenue for the stadium’s owner, the Chicago Park District. That could also mean new revenue for the Chicago Bears, the anchor tenant in the stadium, as well.

How much that would be for both parties is uncertain right now. What’s absolutely clear is that the Bears would not operate the book themselves, as league rules only allow the team to partner with a sportsbook operator, not do that themselves.

Additionally, it’s unlikely the park district will operate the sportsbook either. It will be far easier and more lucrative for the district to simply sell the rights to the space and perhaps collect royalties as well.

The district and the Bears will have to work out between themselves how much of that revenue will go to both parties. Fortunately for both entities, gambling laws in Illinois set them up nicely to take advantage of this.

How the law in Illinois accommodates this very nicely

Illinois is one of only two current jurisdictions that expressly allow sporting venues like Soldier Field to receive sportsbook operator licenses. The other is Washington, D.C.

The law goes a step further than just allowing for such licensure, however. It also provides those sportsbooks with a five-block exclusivity zone.

No competing sportsbooks can accept wagers from bettors within those zones. That not only applies to retail but online operators as well.

Because of this statute, Soldier Field will likely be among the first NFL stadiums with a sportsbook on-site. In fact, it’s possible that the Chicago Park District may have already applied for a license.

The district may have already started having conversations with potential operator partners, as well. Because of its location in Chicago along with the high foot traffic and visibility that Bears games bring, it will be highly sought-after territory for an operator.

It’s uncertain right now whether that operator would accept wagers on Bears games, although there’s nothing in the CBA or Illinois law that would preclude the operator from doing so. Regardless, this is an opportunity for not only NFL stadiums and teams but players, as well.

Players will receive a portion of revenues brought into NFL teams by sports betting partnerships. Some of that will come from win instead of handle, however.

Whether Soldier Field will have a sportsbook ready for the 2020 season is uncertain right now, as there’s a lot of legwork left to be done for that to become a reality. As state law and the new CBA are so accommodating for it, however, it’s more a matter of when than if.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. 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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