Cubs, DraftKings Partner For First ‘In-Stadium’ Sportsbook In Illinois

Posted on September 3, 2020

With the announcement of an eventual Wrigley Field sportsbook at the Illinois venue, the ice is officially broken.

Because this deal between DraftKings and the Chicago Cubs is the first of its kind in Illinois, there are many questions that the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) and those parties have to answer.

The Cubs and DraftKings announced that they are partners for sports betting and plan to offer in-person wagering at Wrigley Field in Chicago. That announcement produces more questions than answers, however.

What the law says about a Wrigley Field sportsbook

When Illinois went through its last gambling expansion, it allowed companies and individuals who own venues like Wrigley to apply for sports betting master licenses. The only stipulations are that the venue’s capacity has to be at least 17,000, and the venue’s primary use can’t be for college sports.

As Wrigley ticks both of those boxes, the Cubs were reportedly interested at first glance. Now, they have a partner to operate that sportsbook. That’s where the questions begin.

That class of master license costs $10 million to acquire. Initially, the Cubs balked at that price, joining other professional sports teams in Chicago to ask for a break.

It’s uncertain whether the Ricketts family, which owns both the Cubs and Wrigley, will now pony up that cash. DraftKings may instead pay at least part of it.

To what degree the Cubs shell out funds depend on how the IGB interprets another part of the statute. The law gives stadium sportsbook operators a five-block exclusivity zone, meaning no other sportsbooks could operate within that radius of Wrigley.

That begins the cavalcade of questions the Cubs, DraftKings and the IGB will have to answer eventually. The IGB’s rulings on several matters will determine the future of this endeavor.

Questions for the Cubs, DraftKings and the IGB

For starters, the statute doesn’t explicitly specify whether that exclusivity zone includes online wagering. The IGB could draft an amendment to its regulations to clarify that, but there might be enforcement concerns. Furthermore, that could also prompt a legal challenge from competing Illinois sportsbooks.

Additionally, the IGB might need to determine what exactly triggers that clause. That might depend on which party pays for the master license and the retail sportsbook’s exact location.

DraftKings might buy the license to satisfy the state’s online sportsbook branding rules. Those regulations require online sportsbooks’ facility partners to be primary in the branding of sports betting apps and websites, not the online operators.

In theory, the Cubs could “sell” the sportsbook portion of the stadium to DraftKings in exchange for DraftKings paying for the license. In that context, it would make DraftKings its own facility partner for online wagering.

DraftKings could get great value from having its branding at the forefront of bettors’ experience at Wrigley. Such exposure could lend tremendously toward DraftKings gaining market share of one of the nation’s largest gambling centers.

If DraftKings does own the master license and the sportsbook is merely adjacent to instead of within the “friendly confines,” the IGB might determine that it’s not an in-stadium book and the exclusivity zone doesn’t apply.

Also complicating this situation is that DraftKings already operates in Illinois.

How this deal could affect DraftKings at Casino Queen

DraftKings Sportsbook is already available on both an online and retail basis in IL. The two components were launched simultaneously last month at DraftKings at Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

With respect to that situation, it could make more sense for the Cubs or another Ricketts company to hold the master license. DraftKings’ branding could still be part of the book at Wrigley but in a secondary role.

Additionally, that might prevent confusion. If there is a separate DraftKings sports betting app within the five-block radius of Wrigley Field, that could bewilder bettors.

While getting its brand in front of millions at Wrigley would be great for DraftKings, it could detract from the value of that partnership with Casino Queen.

For example, until the state’s in-person registration requirement for online wagering (that’s currently suspended) expires, a retail location at Wrigley may drive more registrations than the property in East St. Louis.

That would require that sportsbook to open prior to that expiration date, however. Right now, that’s set for late next year. Either way, DraftKings probably wants to keep its current facility partner in the state happy as it expands.

It’s uncertain whether the sportsbook would feature the Cubs’ logo and name. Additionally, there’s the question of whether such a book would allow wagering on games at Wrigley.

Why ‘sidelining’ is an integrity issue for sports betting

“Sidelining” is when people wager on in-game or live markets at events they are physically spectating. For example, betting on the results of a particular inning of a Cubs game while in the bleachers at Wrigley Field is “sidelining.”

That gives bettors an advantage over other bettors who are not in attendance. There is a lag of a few seconds (at best) from real-time to streaming or television broadcasts. It can take even longer for sportsbooks to receive data regarding such performances from vendors.

This is why legal sportsbooks in the US don’t offer wagering on individual pitches in baseball. They don’t have the technology to reliably account for the lag; however, a sportsbook at Wrigley could address this issue.

A straightforward fix is not to take bets on any events at Wrigley. That would include Cubs baseball as well as college football games at the venue.

So far, we know there will be a Wrigley Field sportsbook and DraftKings will be involved. What that will look like and what that will mean for the sports betting industry in Illinois will be determined soon.

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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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